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?

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