The team arrived at the closest cult hideout, a potion shop called Topaz Solutions. It was named for its owner, Aigon Topaz. Inside were six men with knives. They introduced themselves as the Ash Ravens, a “assistant force” to the local police. They wanted help escaping from Kenebraes. The group had some debate amongst themselves and questioned the group. Bendak tried greeting using the “I have new materials for the archives” passphrase from the cultist letter, but was met with silence. Ultimately the survivors aided them in leaving, despite doubts as to their honesty. They were almost certainly a simple gang of looters. It would be a touch hypocritical for adventurers to persecute such a group however. Wase began to suspect this at the last as they disappeared at the edge of the city and tried to stop and question them. The Ash Ravens quickly left with a flurry of interrupting, yet polite goodbyes.
The survivors then went back to Topaz Solutions to investigate some more. Wase believed he had seen a hidden trapdoor there. He proved to be correct. The hatch lead down a creaking staircase into a musty dirt basement. They went in to see that it was obviously dedicated to Baphomet. The demon lord’s unholy visage decorated a wall and a small clockwork statue of a demon woman with six arms bearing swords and the lower body of a snake. Gith identified it as a marilith demon as Tane detected a faint aura of conjuration magic. Gith psychically opened the chest as the paladin approached. When Wase was close enough, the clockwork demon swung its arms and slashed a trigger that released an invisible gas into the room that stung and burned. Everyone retreated as Bendak warded the skeleton against burning. The skeleton was sent back in to get the presumable treasure that the trap was guarding. It ignored the gas, but suddenly a mushroomlike creature appeared and charged.
The monster bit the skeleton in half, destroying it. The rest of team rushed down through the painful gas to avenge the skeleton’s “death”. The monster crumbled under their focused fire and Wase scored the fatal blow. Thankfully, Gith clarified that he would be able to restore his lost ally soon. The team retreated again and decided this time to wait out the gas. After it faded, Gith picked up the skeleton’s lost gear as Wase checked the treasure chest. It contained five holy symbols of Iomedae, with a note saying “We don’t need these anymore, but figured if you survived our surprise, it would be just plain rude to leave behind an empty chest for your troubles!” Wase picked up the symbols, and fought off the contact poison spread over them. Tane appraised the statue as being worth 250 gold pieces, so the group took it to sell later.
One safehouse remained, the Tower of Estrod. Those among the group who were local to the city remembered it as a public library before the disaster. Gith restored his skeleton, and Tane offered it a magic belt to increase its strength. Oddly, as it put on the belt it flickered briefly back to its appearance in life as Gith’s ancestor Githarahe for an instant. Outside the Tower stood two cultists of Baphomet. The team got in with the passphrase. Once inside, they were given sack lunches and bedrolls. The cultists told the group to make themselves at home after talking to their leader, Faxon. As they crossed the former library, Gith counted the visible bedrolls. He saw about twenty total and the supplies to house about that many cultists. Six bedrolls appeared to be currently occupied. Faxon resided in an office at the bottom of a narrow stair. The undercover demonslayers went down and saw Faxon working on some papers. He was a tiefling like Wase, but seemed not to have made any effort to resist his dark impulses. A small red scorpion sat on his shoulder.
Faxon looked up and complimented Wase on his “stolen” paladin armor and asked how many paladins the group had killed. Without hesitation, Bendak claimed seven. The group talked briefly with Faxon, as their impromptu undercover mission started to break down. Faxon told them to go upstairs and wait for further marching orders. The group continued to stay in the room, awkwardly pushing for more information. Faxon became suspicious and ordered all but Gith to leave. The group remained obstinate, so Faxon cast a Charm spell on Gith and readied his mace. Wase returned his attack while charging his sword with holy might. Bendak and the raptor also rushed in. Gith tried to break up the fight, thinking all present were his friends. He used his skeleton to block off Hook. The two tieflings dueled, and Faxon struck Wase blind. A moment later Wase used his holy blessings to remove the blindness and struck down Faxon as he cried out for help. The six cultists upstairs were heard as they rushed down the stairs. Tane saw his chance and greased the stairs as Bendak began a summoning spell. The cultists charged, slipped on the grease and fell to an ignominious death as meals for a frog the size of a man. The others contributed to tenderizing the meat of course.
The frog snapped up the scorpion and uttered a satisfied croak before vanishing. The team looted the tower. A chest with notes was found. It included a note to Faxon from his apparent superior. It read as follows:
You did well to report your superior’s mishandling of funds, and I trust you will continue to serve as loyally in the weeks to come. You need not command the Kenabres Templars for long, for the city is about to die- I only wish I could be there to take part in its murder, for I have fond memories of my Red Morning Massacre. No matter, I suppose, for your mortal kin will all fall soon enough- as I said, Kenabres’s days are short. Vorlesh has already left to meet with our Lord’s daughter in the Abyss to secure a Nahyndrian crystal of the proper purity, and once she has what she needs, she’ll arrive in Kenabres to finish the job and turn the wardstones fully to our use. You will know when she succeeds, I suspect! Praise Lord Baphomet!
The chest also had lists of information related to the attack. It indicated that the fall of Kenebraes had been planned for years. Among the information was lists of cult members. Although much of the intel was now redundant, it did include the names of members in other cities.
Among the treasure of the tower, one item caused discord among the group. It was a brass image of a minotaur’s face, that was sacred to the Baphomet cult. Wase and Bendak wanted to destroy it for being an evil and unnatural thing, while Tane and Gith wanted to save it to sell. They estimated its worth at about 2000 gold. Tane tried to prevent Wase from destroying it by arguing that it was treasure and thus fair game for anyone to claim. Bendak then immediately claimed it and handed it over for destruction, which Wase eagerly carried out. Hopefully the matter would end there.
The team went back to Defender’s Heart to report victory. Irabeth thanked them and paid 2000 gold for their efforts. Irabeth introduced the party to an old man named Quednys Orlun, founder of Blackwing Library. Tane recognized him and told him about the survivors at the library. A rescue mission was sent after them as Quednys sat and explained the situation.
“As horrific as recent events have been, we’ve come to realize that they are, in fact, merely a prelude. The razing of the Kite, the destruction of our wardstone, Terendelev’s murder, and the assault on the city were nothing more than opening gambits. The Worldwound is on the march, in a much more concentrated assault then we have seen since the fall of Drezen. It’s fair to say that the Lord of Locust Host is finally making his move. The end of the hundred-year-war is upon us, and it falls to us to ensure our victory.
“While the Templars of the Ivory Labyrinth were scattered, those who serve the Lord of the Locust Host himself remain concentrated in Old Kenabres. What we’ve heard from within the barricade they’ve erected is ominous. The cultists are waiting for something, and based on our information and what you’ve managed to recover thus far, it sounds like the vile witch Areelu Vorlesh will soon be coming to Kenabres. And it appears that we’ve determined what she intends to do.
“When the wardstone was destroyed by the Storm King, it exploded and destroyed the Kite. The network along the border failed, but did not fade completely. Quednys and I believe it is because a significant portion of our wardstone still exists, and the cultists have taken it to the old Grey Garrison fort in Old Kenabres. From what we’ve learned, they’re hoping to engineer a way to somehow reverse the field generated by the wardstones essentially, to use our own greatest defense as a devastating weapon.
“The attack on Kenabres had a predictable result: causing the crusade to gather at its border to defend it. Some wonder why the demons haven’t attacked in stronger numbers. I believe that Areelu was counting on us massing along the border, and that if she can corrupt the wardstone field, she can strike a devastating blow against us all. In effect, we have lined up for the slaughter.
“Vorlesh is surely seeking some object of great Abyssal power, likely the Nahyndrian crystal mentioned in the missive you recovered, and with it she intends to turn the source of our hope into an unimaginable nightmare. We cannot hope to evacuate everyone from the border- I doubt they would give up the defensive line even if they knew what the enemy had planned. But we can still stop this from happening- we just need to have someone infiltrate the Gray Garrison, locate the wardstone fragment, and destroy it with a Rod of Cancellation. If you are still willing to serve the cause of good, I would ask you to carry out the infiltration as our crusaders mount a distraction. What say you?"
The survivors agreed. Irabeth joined their party as well for the attack. As the crusaders and the party prepared for battle, some welcome vistors arrived. Arava dropped off some magical items, the first mongrelman troops from Neathholm sent rangers to aid the party. Even Querm sent aid, donating much wealth to the cause. This boosted the troops morale.
The next day, the attack was launched. About twelve cultists patrolled around the building, aided by six howler beasts. The howlers were like demonic big cats with ebony quills. Along with those, two naked, obese men guarded the front gate. They looked like the desecrated corpses of important Kenebraes citizens. One of them was Lord Hulrun, the leader of Kenebraes himself. The crusaders charged, pulling away all but the two obese guards. The party charged under a hail of mongrelman arrows and attacked the two guards. They released bursts of evil energy that hurt Tane and Hook. Together the two paladins cut one open, exposing a massive worm inside. The other corpse burst open, as its worm escaped into the ground.
Everyone waited, tensely waiting for it to strike again. Wase opened the door of the Garrison and saw a ruined frieze of crusaders battling demons. The worm emerged and bit down hard on his foot before being slaughtered. The party and their small army of allies stormed the fortress. It was absolute chaos. Room by room, they battled cultists aplenty and two wrecker demons. The skeleton flickered back and forth between its living self and its skeletal form. During the battle, Gith extended his powers to animate the skeletons of a wrecker demon and a tiefling cultist. Wase finally noticed after the battles had ceased for a moment. It looked like the undead would be destroyed, but Gith claimed that he hadn’t made them. He argued that they were helping despite the evil in them the paladins could sense and puppeted them asking for redemption. Bendak was fooled, and managed to persuade the paladins to stand down with some grumbling.
Tane decided then to explain what was going on with Gith’s ancestor and his belt.
“In order to better assist our party as a whole; for we are a party, one that is burdened with the most important task of ridding this land of a high evil; I crafted this Belt of Giant Strength. My early research into battle tactics and discussions with my mentor have lead me to understand that such a boon is best placed on that person who is already the greatest front-line fighter of our group.
“From when we first met and had our first encounter in the caverns below the city, Gith’s risen ancestor, Githarahe, has proven to be such a person. His attacks have been the strongest and he has rarely demonstrated the need to use any of our precious healing potions or spells. As such, the belt was crafted for him.
“Due to Wase’s Lawful Good nature, as perfectly demonstrated by his constant chaotic behavior and seeming willingness to offer parlay to those performing both unlawful and un-good tasks, and further proven by his recent decisions to; escort looters to safety, destroy valuable items that could finance our holy task, and outright attack efforts by our party member’s attempts at combating the greater evil, I felt it best to try to add some minor alterations to the belt.
“Since Wase seems to want to attack anything that he thinks is evil at every inopportune time, the belt covers Githarahe’s bones with flesh whenever he enters combat. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be momentarily disrupted whenever Githarahe actually hits an enemy. We can only hope that… certain… members of our party do not have illogical reactions to such minor transformations and will, instead, stick to the task at hand to actually put down this demonic invasion instead of lashing out like a two-year-old at every perceived discomfort.
“In the effort to destroy this greater evil, and for the best of the party, and for as long as he continues to prove himself our greatest champion, may Githarahe wear this belt well.”