Chapter 16: The Long Night, Part 1

A brightly-lit mountain town at night.

The crash of breaking glass fills the air as hidden assailants bombard the party. The others run for cover, but Cyd holds her ground.
“Cover me, Aleph,” she says, and the Warforged lifts his shield above them both, sheltering her from the rain of improvised bombs. Narrowing her eyes, she raises her bow and sights along her arm towards the broken window.

The group walking through the besieged town are an odd sight. Aleph is at the front, casting a long and flickering shadow in the fitful light of the fires. At the back, Keothi slumps along, more asleep than awake. The whole party have instinctively drawn together into a tight circle around the civilians at their centre. This has proven difficult, since Brem has insisted on bringing a cart full of healers’ supplies along for the journey.
“I’m just not sure what I might need,” he explains, after they’ve all stopped for the third time in as many minutes to heave one of the cart’s wheels free from a rut in the road. Cyd picks up a jar of green ointment and looks at it sceptically. “For coughs, chills, and fluid on the chest,” she reads. “Really, Brem?”
The Brother of Chauntea snatches it back from her. “You never know!”

“You do never know,” Saph agrees. “And midway through a siege would be a terrible time to catch a chill: better to be prepared, right?” She eyes up the fighters in the party. “On that subject, does anyone have a spare weapon?”
Gerard hands her his staff and Saph hefts it, giving it a few experimental swishes. Then she spins it around and drives it into the ground with a thud.
“Nice!” she breathes.
“You should use that in self-defence only,” Gerard cautions her. “Let us handle the fighting.”
As Saph opens her mouth to respond, a sack flies through the air, hitting Nubbins in the side of the face. A high, angry buzzing comes from within it; as it hits the floor, wasps flood from its opening, swarming around Nubbins’ head and chest.

“Don’t move, Nubs!” Cyd yells. She casts around for the source of the attack, but the street they’re on is dark and empty. Then she catches a glimpse of movement from the corner of her eye—a scaled head appears for an instant in the upstairs window of an abandoned house, flinging another missile before ducking out of sight. Cyd leaps to the side as a flask of acid whizzes past her, melting the doorframe of a house on the opposite side of the road.

The crash of breaking glass fills the air as hidden assailants bombard the party. The others run for cover, overturning Brem’s cart and diving behind it, but Cyd holds her ground.
“Cover me, Aleph,” she says, and the Warforged lifts his shield above them both, sheltering her from the rain of improvised bombs. Narrowing her eyes, she raises her bow and sights along her arm towards the broken window.

The next time a reptilian face appears, she is ready. She plants an arrow squarely in the kobold’s forehead, felling him with a single shot. There’s a panicked chittering from inside the house.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Cyd shouts. “We have ranged weapons too. And ours are pointy!”

*

Nubbins stands stock still, as Cyd suggested, screwing his eyes and mouth shut as the wasps crawl over his face. It doesn’t help, and he soon begins to squirm from the sharp pain of dozens of stings. Seizing her moment, Saph darts out from behind the overturned cart and sprints in his direction.
“I’ll take care of those wasps for you!” she yells.
At the sight of her running towards him, brandishing Gerard’s staff above her head, the gnome yelps and leaps out of the way. Saph brings the staff down on the space where Nubbins was standing moments before, crushing and swatting as many of the wasps as she can before their stings force her, too, to retreat.

She hunkers back down behind the cart with a laugh. “That was fun!”
Cyd’s head appears, poking over the side. “All clear!” she reports. “They ran off once I’d taken one of them out.”
“Aha!” Brem, who has been hunting through the bottles and boxes that have spilled from the cart, holds up a jar of pink cream with a triumphant shout. “This is for stings and bites,” he explains, unscrewing the lid. He shoots a dark glance at Cyd. “And some people said that bringing this many supplies was a waste of time.”

By this point, Nubbins’ face has swelled to almost twice its usual size, and is covered in hectic red welts. He grabs the salve eagerly; it’s cool and soothing, and dulls the worst of the pain. As he slathers it over his stings, Saph sidles up to Gerard. “Look,” she says, wiggling the staff. “I heard that wasps continue to sting after they’re dead, so you should use this end next time you’re hitting people.”
Gerard looks dubiously at the mash of dead wasps smeared on the end of his staff. “Erm, thank you.”

Once he is sure that the kobolds have gone, Brem comes out of hiding to gather up the salves that have been scattered across the road. He returns to the cart, arms full of bottles and poultices, to find Nubbins curled up inside in a nest of medicinal supplies.
“Carry me,” the gnome mumbles. “I’m too sting-y to walk.”
Brem balks. “I’m not sure that I can—” he begins. Keothi walks past him, lifting the shafts with ease.
“You humans are very small,” he comments as he walks off, dragging the cart behind him.

*

The group don’t stop again until they reach the riverbank. There, screened from the approach to the secret tunnel by a stand of bushes, they wait while Cyd scouts ahead to check that the coast is clear. She returns with bad news.
“There are still a few cultists hanging around down by the river,” she whispers. “They look like they’re just slacking off, but they’re right in our path.”
Aleph nods. “If we are quiet, we can ambush them. We’ll move on my—”

“I favour a more direct approach,” Keothi interrupts. He straightens up, pulling the cart around by its shafts until it is in front of him. In the bed of the cart, Nubbins raises his head.
“Um, Keothi, what are you—”
His question ends in a high-pitched scream as the goliath charges forwards, driving the cart before him like a battering ram. As he emerges from the bushes, he gives the cart a final shove, sending it hurtling down the bank towards the cultists.

The three men turn at the sound, just in time to see a screaming gnome barrelling towards them at top speed. Clinging on to the front of the cart for dear life, Nubbins ploughs through them. Two are knocked out cold. The third tries to leap clear, but a corner of his cloak gets caught beneath the cart’s wheels, dragging him behind it as it rattles into the river.

Gnome, cultist, cart and all hit the water with a thunderous splash, drenching the rest of the party. Wiping the river water from their eyes, Cyd, Aleph and Gerard stumble down the bank towards it, following the trail of devastation it left in its wake. Two long lines of rucked-up mud and dirt lead to the river, where the cart is now bobbing gently along with the current. They race over to it and peer down into its bed: Nubbins is lying on his back, looking at the sky.

“Just leave me here…” he murmurs. “I think I’ve hurt my… everything.”
Keothi hauls the very soggy surviving cultist from the river and pins him to the ground with one foot.
“My apologies, Nubbins,” he intones. “I was led to believe we were on the same page, tactically speaking.”
“That’s OK, Keothi,” the gnome replies weakly. “I was the one who got into the cart in the first place.”
Keothi nods. “Yes, exactly. I am sorry that your mistake has caused you injury, however.”

As the goliath binds the surviving raider’s hands, Cyd fishes a rope from her pack and lobs it into the cart.
“Grab this, Nubs,” she calls. “We’ll get you back onto dry land!”
With a groan, Nubbins catches the rope and secures it to the side of the cart. Cyd drags it back into the shallows, beaching it on the bank, and helps him to stagger out.

Saph and Brem have watched this scene play out from the safety of the bushes; Brem looks terrified, Saph, delighted.
“That was great!” she whispers to Gerard as she picks her way through the mud towards him. “Is this what it’s always like when you’re out fighting bad guys?”
Gerard shrugs, half pleased, half embarrassed. “It… varies,” he admits. “I think the one thing you can safely say about our tactics is that they are hard to anticipate.”

*

The cultist that Aleph knocked out earlier is still where they left her, bound and unconscious in the bushes by the entrance to the tunnel. The Warforged slings her over his shoulder before opening the grating. Then he prods the other prisoner in the small of the back, pushing him into the tunnel ahead of the party.
“Move quickly,” Aleph advises him, “lest you be eaten by rats.”
In the event, the rats have mostly dispersed, and the group’s second journey through the tunnel is considerably less eventful than their first. They soon reach the foot of the stairs to the war room, where the bandits are chained in their alcoves. The bandit leader nods at the cultist as he passes.
“Another one?” he smirks. “Welcome to the club.”

Nighthill and the castellan look up from the war table as the party emerges from the sewers.
“Welcome back,” says the Governor. “What news from the temple?”
“Everyone inside is safe,” Aleph reports. “Several bands of raiders were attempting to gain entry, but they did not succeed. Brem has accompanied us, bringing medicinal supplies for the wounded here,” he adds. “Though he may require some assistance to carry the cart upstairs.”
Nighthill lets out an audible sigh of relief as the Warforged speaks. “Thank you,” he says, bowing. “The cultists have proven bolder than we expected. Had you not been here, things could have turned out grim indeed.”

Cyd points at the two prisoners. “Annnd we brought prisoners!” she says. “Where do you want them, Mr Nighthill?”
“May I defer the question to you?” the Governor replies. “We have set up a field hospital in the tower, so we can chain the unconscious one there, but as for the other—” he gives the male cultist a cold glance—“my guards are not trained in the extraction of intelligence, so I would appreciate any help you could offer in questioning him.”
“Of course,” Aleph answers. He pauses for a moment. “In that case, Governor, would you chain him outside, by the coffins? I will speak to him there.”

*

In the frozen courtyard, his ropes replaced with iron manacles, surrounded by the bodies of the townsfolk killed in the siege, the conscious cultist looks small and nervous. He shivers as Aleph and the rest of the party approach, but still manages to glare up at the Warforged in defiance. “Going to torture me?” he snarls. “That’s not very heroic. And you won’t succeed, anyway: my faith in the Queen of Dragons is unshakable. For the Glory of Tiamat!”

“It is not me you need fear… yet,” Aleph replies. An axe whips past his head and embeds itself in a coffin a couple of inches from the cultist’s head, making the man flinch. Keothi draws up alongside the Warforged, his other axe in his hand. He fixes the prisoner with a steady gaze. “I will keep this simple, cultist,” he says. “Answer our questions, or I will remove your head. Possibly with this axe, or possibly without the aid of any implement at all.”

The cultist holds his gaze for several seconds. Then he drops his eyes.
“Ask me your questions,” he mutters. “I will answer, but it will avail you nothing. I am the lowliest of the Dragon Queen’s servants; I know little of her plan.” He spits into the dirt at his feet.
As Aleph opens his mouth, Saph interjects. “Was that really necessary? Surely there are other ways of persuading someone to talk.”
Cyd sidles up alongside her. “Don’t worry about it,” she says, whispering behind her hand. “We’re not really going to kill the sod—we’re just trying to loosen his tongue a bit.”
“That’s still torture, of a kind,” Saph argues, frowning.

Now Gerard, too, is starting to look concerned. “That’s a good point,” he says. “I do not think that my allies would truly harm a prisoner, but is making him believe that his life is in danger really so much better? My conscience—”
The monk is interrupted in his musings by a pointed cough. Turning, he sees that Aleph, Keothi and the cultist are all staring at him.
“Gerard,” Aleph rumbles. “You are ruining my interrogation. As this man is ready to talk, I can assure you that he will come to no harm. Now,” Aleph turns back to the cultist, trying to recover the sternness in his tone, “why are you raiding these towns?”

“To collect treasure,” the cultist replies.
“To what end?” Aleph presses.
“To see Tiamat rise again!”
“And to where are you taking this treasure?” Keothi adds.
The cultist shrugs, trying for a sneer that he can’t quite carry. “South.”
Aleph drops a map of the Greenfields in front of him. “Where?”
The man hesitates, then points at a spot a few days south of Greenest. “I hope they slaughter you like cattle and display your bodies as an offering to our queen,” he mutters under his breath.

Cyd scrunches her face in thought. “So, tell me this: what do you actually hope to get if Tiamat comes back?”
The cultist looks at her like she has just asked him why water is wet. “When she resumes her rightful place as the ruler of this plane, she will reward the faithful with riches and power beyond mortal reckoning.”
Cyd nods. “Uh huh. Same old deal, then.”

“If that is all, then I am going to bed,” Keothi says. “We can question this man further tomorrow, if need be.” He turns and mutters a spell in a strange tongue before walking straight up the tower wall and in through the top window.
“I’ll go and see if Brem needs a hand in the infirmary,” Nubbins adds, wandering off towards the tower.

As the others turn to follow him, the sudden blast of a horn freezes them in their tracks. Following the source of the sound, they look up to the battlements—in time to see the guardsman who sounded the alarm plummet from the wall. He lands with a horrible crack at their feet. Above him, two enormous clawed feet grip the crenellations, digging into the stonework. A tail like a gargantuan morningstar whips across the western wall, sweeping the archers stationed there to their deaths.

Beautiful and terrible, the blue dragon looms over Greenest Keep.

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One Comment on “Chapter 16: The Long Night, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Session 5: At the Temple Doors, Part 2 – Tabletop Tales

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