Second Chances

Second Chances
We pick things up just after Keo roused Flint in the lodge. Both PCs watched in fascination as a ghostly figure emerged from Mara’s greataxe and disappeared inside her bruised and battered body. Before their very eyes, the bruises faded and the wounds closed, and then Mara opened her eyes and sat up … but was it really Mara? They weren’t too sure, and it appeared that she wasn’t either.

Just then, Talis’ last remaining bodyguard smashed down the door to his quarters and came looking for the source of the disturbance that woke him up. He was an older fellow, still bleary-eyed from sleep. Keo used his imposing size to intimidate the cultist into backing down. After promising them that they’d never see him again, the old fellow hot-tailed it down the back stairs.

The surviving heroes then went exploring, only to found Tails’ warm and inviting bedroom. Giving it a good once-over, they were delighted to find a large amount of treasure in Talis’ chest, including a magic figurine of an owl that could transform into a giant owl for a short while! They decided that this was as good a place as any for a much-needed a rest.

First, though, Keo went downstairs and found the lodge’s butler, Gastyn. He told the startled man that Tails was gone and the lodge now belonged to him. Keo suggested that Gastyn find the deed to the place. He then went back up to Talis’ room and attempted to rest.

As the heroes got to talking, it was soon revealed that Mara was no more! Her body, as they suspected, had been possessed by the spirit of her ancestor, Skie, who had been inhabiting her greataxe ever since they’d found her tomb in the catacombs beneath Baldur’s Gate.

Sometime later, they were disturbed by the butler, who informed them that they had some visitors! They turned out to be none other than the young woman and the priest of Lathander they’d rescued from the lodge cellar earlier! The priest, Brother Caemon, explained that, as they were heading through the woods, he’d received a vision from the Morninglord directing him to turn back and help those who had helped him. They had saved his life, so it was time for him to save one of theirs. And with that, he performed a magic ritual that brought Roscoe gasping back to life again!

The head maid, Aerlenga, then brought up some food for everyone and told them that if they were going to go down to the village, they should keep an eye out for her brother-in-law, Gundalin, the village’s wheelwright. He was not a cultist and might be able to help them.

Parnast
In the middle of the night, the PCs decided it was time to get a move on. They didn’t want to hang around too long, in case Tails came back and/or the flying castle departed without them. Keo summoned up the giant owl, and the party rode it down the mountainside. Circling over the village in the predawn light, they could see bits of a giant-sized castle poking out of a fog-shrouded ravine to the southwest.

As the sun rose, they landed the owl in the woods nearby and slipped into town. The wheelwright wasn’t at his shop, so they went looking for him at the tavern. Quite a few locals, including the wheelwright, were having their breakfasts there, and all were curious about the newcomers. The party was kept busy with plenty of food, drink and questions for at least an hour before they managed to get Gundalin’s attention. He indicated that they should meet him at his shop shortly.

However, as they went to follow him out into the square, the ground rumbled. Rushing outside, they saw that the castle had taken to the sky and was slowly moving up and to the south! They dashed across the square, which had begun filling up with merchants, to Gundalin’s shop. Along the way, Keo noticed one of the locals from the tavern slip up and whisper something to one of the guards in the square, who promptly turned and dashed off down an alley.

Gundalin informed the party that the cult kept a pair of wyvems in the old stable building. He suggested that commandeer the wyvems and fly them up to the castle. They rushed off down the back lanes to the stable and, without too much trouble, managed to saddle up the wyverns and mount them just as the leader of the village’s cultist contingent, a burly dark-skinned man who introduced himself as Captain Othelstan, showed up with his forces.

Although things looked a bit hairy for a bit, the heroes managed to trick Othelstan into believing that they were fellow cultists on an urgent mission to warn Rezmir of Talis’ treachery! While he appeared to buy this story, he wasn’t willing to help them with the wyvems and seemed somewhat amused when Skie and Flint had a bit of trouble getting theirs airborne. (Keo and Roscoe, meanwhile, had no trouble at all getting their wyvern into the air and circling the town.)

Once both wyverns were up in the air and obeying their riders’ orders, they sped into the sky and circle around the giant flying castle. The heroes spotted ogres on the parapets and in the upper courtyard. They also noticed that the central iceberg was riddled with caves. No one appeared to be in the lower courtyard, but they nevertheless chose to land up top, where some ogres were just starting to practice their javelin throwing.

The Giant
Assuming them to be cultists, the ogres escorted the party to their leader, a cloud giant named Blagothkus. Although he was at first angry that some cultists had invaded his private sanctum, the heroes soon revealed their true purpose, at which point Blagothkus calmed down and agreed to talk with them. He admitted that he was indeed carrying a contingent of dragon cultists who were carting stolen treasure to the Well of Dragons, an ancient volcano caldera that dragons have been using as a graveyard for centuries. Once there, the treasure aboard the castle would be added to an even greater hoard fit for the Queen of Dragons herself!

Blagothkus then revealed that he was only aiding the Cult of the Dragon because he wanted to bring the dragons out into the open in order to stir his people out of their complacency and unite them in the face of their ancient foe.

When Roscoe boldly called him out for the illogic of his plan, Blagothkus was impressed and admitted that things weren’t going according to plan. The cultists had brought a vampire with them. The vampire had located the hidden tomb of his dead wife, Esclarotta, and was threatening to desecrate it if he didn’t let the cult take over the castle.

Together, the heroes and the giant lord came up with a plan: the heroes would deal with the vampire while Blagothkus locked himself in the steering tower and turned the castle towards the north, moving it away from the Well of Dragons. He would also enshroud the castle in fog so the cultists couldn’t tell that they had changed direction. Once the vampire was defeated, Blagothkus would help them deal with Rezmir and her underlings, as well as the white dragon that was guarding the treasure hoard in a cave in the iceberg.

The Vampire
Unfortunately for the heroes, the vampire had taken over the top floor of a crumbling tower with no easy entrance. The ground floor door was blocked by a heap of rubble on the inside. There was a door high up on a balcony near the roof, but when Keo climbed up to investigate, his weight was too much for the balcony, and both he and it plunged back down to the ground again. Roscoe then climbed up and tried to wedge a grappling hook into a crack in the tower wall by the door, but he failed and also fell, although Skie managed to catch him. She then climbed up herself and successfully jammed the grappling hook in so the others could climb up a rope.

Busting the door open and leaping into the room, the heroes were immediately set upon by two elven vampire spawn. While Skie and Keo attempted to hold them off, Flint fiddled with a mirror in a vain attempt to direct some sunlight at them. Roscoe, meanwhile, sauntered over to a coffin resting on a mound of dirt in the center of the room.

Popping open the lid, Roscoe found a female elven vampire in sweet repose within. Forgetting what he’d been told about driving a wooden stake through the vampire’s heart, he proceeded to pour a vial of oil over her and light it on fire. Much to his surprise, this merely caused the vampire to wake up and angrily reach out and pull him inside her coffin! She sucked a bit of his blood, then exerted her will and charmed him into serving her.

While Skie and Keo were getting the life sucked out of them by the vampire’s spawn, Flint went over to help Roscoe but ended up being charmed as well. The vampire ordered him to close the door, but Keo managed to stop the dwarf and then smashed the door off its hinges, sending it plunging down to the ground.

Shrieking in rage, the vampire leapt out of her coffin and dashed through the sunlight towards the broken stairs that once led to the tower’s lower floors. Grabbing their bewildered companions, Keo and Skie made a run for it, out into the safety of the sunlight.

The Hunting Lodge

Searching the House
Leaving the cult meeting room, the heroes went down to the kitchen, where the four cultists attempted to spring an ambush. Two of them died in the first few seconds so the other two surrendered. While Keo helped himself to some of the food in the kitchen, the others interrogated their prisoners. They asked how many people they were cooking for. The cultists indicated about a dozen, not including the two dozen kobolds. The group also found out that the cultists’ master was none other than Talis, Mara’s childhood friend! What?! Not only that, but she was supposedly waiting for them to come upstairs.

The heroes ended up locking the two cultists in the pantry and headed down into the cellar, where they found three prisoners: a male dwarf, a female human, and a male human. The dwarf and the woman looked to have been beaten up quite badly but the man hadn’t been harmed at all. He turned out to be a priest of Lathander who’d been on a pilgrimage when he was kidnapped by the cultists. He had no idea why Talis had been so nice to him. The woman was with a caravan that had gone to the nearby village of Parnast, where she’d stumbled on the cultists and was kidnapped. Talis had been interrogating her to find out how much she knews about the cult, which she insisted was nothing at all. The heroes untied those two, healed the woman, and sent them on their way.

Flint’s efforts to talk to the dwarf prisoner, however, proved fruitless. The guy didn’t seem to want to say anything without knowing whether he could trust the heroes first. He kept throwing them the cult’s hand sign. They concluded that he must have been a rogue cultist that Talis was punishing.

After that, they went up and peeked through the doors leading out of the kitchen. Two led to hallways with more doors. The third was locked. Taking a key from one of the dead cultists, they opened it up to find a trio of real servants sitting around glumly. One was a haughty butler type, the others a maid and a hunter/groom. They explained that they used to serve the lodge’s previous master, whom Talis had killed when the cult took over. The servants were kept confined in their room when no cult dignitaries were visiting the lodge. They were occasionally let out to run errands in Parnast, and on their most recent visit, they had spotted a castle floating in the sky nearby!

The servants were also able to give the heroes a detailed description of the layout of the lodge. Armed with that knowledge, they did a quick sweep through the ground floor to make sure that no one else was around. They avoided the front entrance, with its trapped suits of armor and demonic statues. Roscoe went around and jammed shut all the doors leading to the kobolds’ room. This meant going into the southeastern parlor with a magic tapestry in order to get to the bathroom. He noticed the suit of black armor and was concerned that it might be magical but nothing happened as he tiptoed through the room alone.

With that task completed, the group ventured upstairs, jamming shut the bodyguards’ barracks door on the way. The door to Talis’ meeting hall opened ominously as they approached, and a cold voice called out, “Ah! Welcome! I was beginning to think I might have to go in search of my guests. Please come in and take a seat.”

Meeting Talis
Talis was quite surprised to see Mara, and the two had a brief exchange in which Mara desired to know what had happened to her friend. Talis explained that she’d had a vision in which the queen of dragons and her brood ruled over Faerûn and had decided not to fight that vision but accept it. She eventually came to be blessed by Tiamat with magic powers as well.

Talis offered the group a proposition: she wanted them to go and kill Rezmir and disrupt the treasure loaded up on the flying castle. Why? Because she really didn’t like Rezmir and wanted to see her fail. The heroes surmised Talis wished to take Rezmir’s place, although she was even more envious of her hated rival, Varram, an incompetent dwarf whom Severin had appointed as his white wyrmspeaker instead of her.

Roscoe wanted to know what was in it for them, to which Talis responded: “Your lives?” She gestured at her three bodyguards, whose hands were hovering close to the hilts of their weapons. Talis added that she had a banner and a password that the group could use to get into the castle unmolested. The group indicated that they’d already found the banner, and in a fit of overconfidence, Talis told them that the password was “Tiamat, Our Mother and Strength“.

The companions went into a huddle to discuss the offer. Keo was vehemently against “making a deal with the devil”, and Mara felt quite strongly that her friend had betrayed her, so the two of them were inclined to fight. Roscoe wanted to do no such thing, and Flint wasn’t so keen either. Since they couldn’t seem to settle on a decision as a group, they decided to let Mara choose on her own …

Mara reached for her greataxe. Talis shook her head. “Wrong decision.” Magically enhancing her voice, she shouted for reinforcements as her bodyguards whipped out their weapons. Roscoe ducked under the table in order to attack Talis from below, while Mara leapt up on top of it to attack her from above. Talis attempted to summon a spiritual weapon in her defense but Flint stopped her with his newly acquired counterspell.

For a moment, Flint felt safe at the back of the room near the door, but he soon found himself under attack by the two demonic statues from the entry hall, which had animated as gargoyles and come swooping through the door!

Talis went on the defensive and was saved from instant death by her magic, enabling her to make a risky escape out one of the windows. Meanwhile, Roscoe was slashed and stabbed under the table and collapsed into a coma. Mara decapitated Talis’ female bodyguard and then raced to the window, only to see Talis disappear through one of the portals in the front yard.

Keo leapt up onto the table and used thunderwave to blast one of the bodyguards out a window as well, giving him enough space in the cramped room to shift into his bear form. Flint then disengaged from the gargoyles and made his way to the opposite corner, near where Talis had been, so that Keo could soak up the gargoyles’ attacks.

Seeing that all appeared to be lost, the last remaining bodyguard threw his weapons down and backed into a corner, only to climb out a window himself when his captors weren’t looking.

Shortly after the gargoyles had been broken into little pieces, the black suit of plate armor that Roscoe had seen in one of the downstairs parlors came marching into the room. As it entered, black smoke emanated from it and the room suddenly filled with squirming black tentacles!

Keo was the only one who made it out, after breaking free of the tentacles and pushing his way past the animated armor. The construct gave chase, but in his bear form, Keo was faster and managed to escape down the back stairs and out through the kitchen door. The armor did not come out of the house after him. Eventually he climbed up a tree to look through the open windows and saw that the tentacles were gone. He threw a rope up and climbed into the room through the window. He found Flint unconscious but still breathing, while Roscoe and Mara were both dead, having been smothered and crushed by the horrid tentacles.

Keo poured a healing potion down Flint’s throat and helped the one-armed dwarf to his feet. The two of them gazed sadly at all the carnage in the room. Perhaps they should’ve taken Talis’ offer after all. The goliath was sure there were other druids in the mountains who might be able to reincarnate their friends, much like the druids of the Misty Forest had done for Erevan during the caravan trip. He had some influence with the Emerald Enclave now. Flint thought that sounded like a good idea, since Waterdeep seemed so very far away. He was worried, though, that they might miss the castle … after all, Talis had made it sound like the castle would be leaving at any moment. What to do?