Black Spire III: A Twisted King

At Dragon's Neck

Alice, Alishia, Red, Calin and Ironcrow traveled alongside the Crimson Sands tribe. Having healed their bodies and souls at the magical spring, they enjoyed a few weeks of leisure as they journeyed north, meeting with other tribes and spreading the words of Narackamus’ betrayal of the human race. Eventually, they reached the borders of settled lands, at the great Long Dragon River. Here, a fortress was established at Dragon’s Neck, guarding a stone bridge that was once the entry point into the human Empire of Alkerath. Disturbingly, the fortress now flew the flag of the Bonelord.

The Crimson Sands told the heroes that the northern tribe named the Iron Seeds, who forge lifelong bonds with their swords, must have occupied the city. Indeed, it seemed they now lived within, a small garrison of the forces of the Iron Seeds general, dubbed “Alexa the Gauntlet”. They could not possibly have fought the templars guarding the city, though, and must have somehow allied with them.

Escorted into the city by a few of the Crimson Sands tribe, the heroes soon met Cuthbert, the barkeep of the Bannered Mare. Here they learned the state of the city. After a long illness, the High Cleric had soon recovered, but his personality seemed changed. He’d accused an elven druid, Korinra, of heresy, and imprisoned her in the Steward’s castle. As for the Steward, he religiously followed everything the High Cleric told him. The High Cleric, apparently, had endorsed the religion of the Bonelord, and the crusade to retake the capital. The Iron Seeds were only waiting for the templars to mobilize, then they would all march together on the North.

Suspicious of this, the heroes decided to split up. Alice and Alishia went to look for information on their homeland, Tilak, while Red and Calin intended to learn more about the Steward. They were dragged aside, however, by a human named Brennan, who showed them an elven sign of distress. Brennan took them to a group of half-elf thieves, led by a man named Melwyn. They were planning to rescue Korinra, who had shown them nothing but kindness since coming to Dragon’s Neck. Sadly, they were woefully underfunded and short of skills. The templars guarded the Steward’s castle, and was all but impenetrable. Red and Calin set to work on helping them, based on what little clues Melwyn and his men had gathered. One of these clues was a book on demonology, supposedly sold on the black market by someone in the castle. It seemed to have been penned by Ofec, the lich’s former apprentice.

Meanwhile, Alice met a man from the Iron Seeds tribe, named Ramath. She soon revealed herself to be an outsider, and Ramath ordered her to surrender her weapon. When she refused, a fight broke out, and Alice slew two war-dancers, sacred storytellers among the Iron Seeds. Ramath escaped, bringing a retinue of warriors. Fortunately, a friendly dwarf named Kogan whisked Alice away to a hidey-hole, and faking having been attacked, later smuggled her out to the old wine-smuggling tunnels that the dwarves built beneath the city. Kogan promised to aid the heroes, and in his skill as a goldsmith, provided them with five magical tokens.

Red surveyed the Steward’s castle, swimming in through the sewer that ran beneath it. He found that Korinra wasn’t held in the dungeon, but her apprentice – Salawi – was there, in a heavy wooden collar to keep her from working magic. Red promised to rescue her, and learned from Salawi that Korinra was kept in the room next to the Steward’s. He climbed the tower and sent her a message, relayed by knocking, that help was coming. Furthermore, a strange magical light drew his attention – and in a tower window, he spied a man wearing a collar with some kind of magic-suppression amulet. He seemed to have just had sex, but when he dressed, he put on the robes of a cleric.

Calin, meanwhile, talked to a young apprentice named Evelyn and a blind old nun named Alva, both of whom served to sweep and clean the Steward’s castle. From this she learned that at the same time as the High Cleric fell ill, the old chronicler had died, and been replaced with a historian named Hastha. Hastha had a mysterious companion, a dark-voiced, seductive man whom nobody else at the castle seemed to know about – he only came out at night. Sister Alva suspected he might be somehow tied to the High Cleric – there was a similar tone of lust in their voices. Hastha had locked the library, restricting access to herself, her companion, and a single blind maid, that role being served by Alva. Alva suspected that there was something strange about the books, since nobody was allowed to look at them.

The group gathered again at the Bannered Mare, sharing what they had learned. Alice was now wanted for murder, and would need to lie low. Alishia and Ironcrow also contributed, with news of Tilak being besieged and its nobility rounded up for execution. Ironcrow told of black magic trinkets, some of which had belonged to Ofec, on the black market. When told Hastha’s name, Ironcrow recognized her as Ofec’s senior student and a former apprentice of Narackamus. She’s a dangerous summoner, with a demon permanently bound to her side and several other demons, which she kept as lovers. Calin guessed that an incubus had its claws on the High Cleric, one way or another. Perhaps it was this man Red had seen through the window.

It was resolved to free Korinra, who had been jailed for heresy and likely knew more. A plan was devised, in which Calin and Red climbed the Steward’s tower and entered just beneath it, through the nearest unbarred window. Meanwhile, Alice and Alishia would free the prisoners in the dungeons, causing a ruckus and a distraction.

The plan went off without a hitch. Alice, Alishia and Melwyn snuck into the dungeons and released the prisoners. As the alarm was raised, Alice and Alishia bare-handed fought off five heavily armed men, managing to avoid any casualties except for a guard dog, that Alice threw with full force at its handler. Escaping with the prisoners, mostly drunks but also the apprentice Salawi, they caused enough of a stir to alert the Steward.

As the most senior Templar ran to alert the Steward in his chambers, Red jammed the lock of the door behind them, leaving them trapped. Calin distracted the second templar using one of Kogan’s trinkets, a token of ghost sound. This won Red enough time to pick the lock of Korinra’s door. The old druid was almost naked, and clapped in cold iron to prevent her from spellcasting or shapeshifting. Red readily freed her, and she transformed into a bird, fleeing through the window. Red and Calin escaped into the river, but not before throwing down a magical token before the Steward’s door, causing a giant oak to spring from the ground, sealing him in until the tree could be cut down.

They all fled through Kogan’s dwarven smuggling tunnels. Ironcrow was waiting at the exit, as was Korinra, given directions there by Red. As Korinra and Salawi were once more united, they thanked the heroes for their help, but were in dire need of rest and recovery. Korinra informed them that the High Cleric had been slain by Hastha, and replaced by some sort of shapeshifter. She had revealed this at the Steward’s ball, but the plan had backfired and an angry mob threw them in jail to be executed. The creature impersonating the High Cleric must have great sway over men’s minds, to cause such an event.

As the druids descended into the river to regain their strength and commune with nature, the heroes began working on a plan to slay the shapeshifter and reveal to the people of Dragon’s Neck how they had been deceived…

A plan was made overnight. Alice and Alishia insisted on going to Tilak, to save their family, as soon as the summoner was dealt with. Red objected; doing so would only draw the necromancer’s army. For the moment, he didn’t know Tilak was in any way important. It was decided that Alishia and Ironcrow, along with a retinue of dwarves, would try to enter the village by stealth, helping the besieged locals hold out. Red, Alice and Calin would go downstream, to the town of Redfield, to locate aid either from the Pathfinders or the wood elves.

Having decided this, it was resolved to deal with the summoner. Korinra scried on her and divined she was in her chamber, preparing some kind of demonic ritual, intending to pin the blame on Korinra. The heroes decided to act immediately. They delved into the dwarven tunnels, Korinra saying her blessings over them, before she departed to lead Melwyn and the other elves to safety. Just then, a warning rang out – demon in the dwarven quarters!

Red, Calin, Alishia and Alice broke off, headed for the commotion. As they emerged from the tunnels, they saw an enormous toad-like creature, belching Korinra’s name, pretending loyalty to her. A way of discrediting the druid, the demon was also a trap – men of the Iron Seeds Tribe were lying in wait with poisoned arrows. The heroes waded into combat, and though they suffered many arrows and injury from the blasphemous magic and noxious slime of the demon, it was soon laid low by Calin’s arrows. Healing their injuries as best they could, they pondered their next course of action.

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