Fiona, Bast, and Gwyn hung out at the back of the great hall. They weren’t sure where Rothelar was, but were confident he would join them before the actual coronation. They watched in numb silence as the Catafract punched through the king’s chest and threw him into the crowd. In the chaos that then ensued, two of the Catafracts moved toward them, but were intercepted by Bysynthian guards. The guards didn’t slow them down much, but while they distracted the giant creatures, Bast and Gwyn were yanked into the back hallway by their collars. Fiona spun around to see Rothelar panting and tugging the others into a secluded nook.
He explained there was an army of basilisk on their way and that fire was spreading in the various districts of Syntyr. The city was being surrounded by soldiers of Trynal and Althair. Grasping the urgency of the situation, Gwyn whispered, “We must make it to the rendezvous point. The others will protect Nephelle and meet us there.” Bast begrudgingly agreed, commenting that she would kill Davik if he sought to betray them, then led the group toward an entrance to a series of secret tunnels leading to the city.
As they rounded the last corner before the hidden entrance, they spotted a Trynal cultist in a billowing black cloak made of a fine metallic mesh. He was giving orders to some creatures in a corner. At a wave of his arm, shadows broke up and danced across the floor and he turned to face them, his face covered with an iron-mesh mask. In one hand, he carrried a mace in the shape of a screaming demon, identifying him as a cultist of Raagbaal. His other hand was encased in black flames.
Bast boldly approached him and demanded, “Move aside! We have official business here that doesn’t concern you.” The cultist looked at her then spoke, “The Thief! My masters will be pleased when I bring them your corpse.”
Rothelar gripped his holy symbol and commanded, “Drop to the floor!” The man looked at Rothelar and for a brief second, the iron mask turns into the most seductive femail face he had ever seen before revealing a face with maggots falling from the eye sockets and worms crawling from its mouth. It quickly reverted back to the iron mesh, but Rothelar was horrified.
Having tried to resolve it nicely, Bast calmly pulled the trigger on her crossbow, the bolt taking the cultist in the stomach. He lurched back and was spun around when Doomblight struck him. He swung his own mace at Gwyn, the head of it bursting into black flames as it swung around. She ducked under the blow and watched as the cultist flung out his other hand toward Bast. Three black fireballs shot toward her, exploding on contact and knocking her back against the wall. She rebounded and threw herself at the man, dropping the crossbow and pulling two daggers from hidden sheathes. One dagger sank through the chainmail into his stomach while the other stabbed upward through the man’s jaw. In his gaping mouth, she could see that her blade had pierced into the man’s brain, cutting the man’s tongue in half on its way. Pulling her daggers free, she calmly stepped over the man’s body and opened the hidden door.
Gwyn pointed out that they should loot the body, and they found eight coins, four silver and four platinum. Bast and Rothelar pointed out that the others didn’t do anything to help so the two of them split the loot between them.
They head into the tunnels, Bast leading the way toward the market. They emerged at the back of a dyer’s shop. They had to move aside several bundles of wool, but they weren’t spotted by the Trynal soldiers moving down the streets. Behind them were many undead suits of armor with leashed basilisks. They were all moving toward the palace. They ducked back into the tunnels to wait for the coast to clear and for Rothelar to prepare another spell. When they came out the second time, there was no one in sight. Bast led them to the cliffs in the hopes of reaching the Spider King to ask for help.
They tried to sneak their way along the cliff, and as they came around a bend, they could see the Spider King’s lair, but they could also see a boat moored at a dock in the river. The boat seemed to have been carved from ivory, the white gleaming in the water. An elf with a grey complexion and black hair stood on deck. As they watched another sailor herd some people and children below deck, Rothelar whispered to the others that it was probably a slaver’s ship for the elf was a Fallen Elf.
Taking careful aim, both Rothelar and Bast fired their crossbows at the same time at the elf. The bolts sank into the elf’s chest and he crumpled to the deck. The black dagger he had been carrying fell point-first into the ivory deck and stuck there, quivering. The other sailor jumped over the side screaming elvish expletives. They clambered aboard the ship, and Rothelar retrieves the dagger, recognizing that it is of elvish make and is somehow enchanted. He tossed it to Bast who caught it with a grin.
They looked back at the market and through the smoke, could see other slavers who are pulling people out of buildings. There was also something massive moving in the smoke, but they couldn’t make out what it was. As they examined the boat, there were surprised to find no mooring lines or anything of the sort. The water was moving quickly around the boat, but it remained steadfast. Not thinking too much on that for the moment, they went down into the hold.
Packed inside were about 400 refugees. Some were recognizable as coming from Syntyr, others were obviously woodsmen. All were capable of walking, though some had been on board for several weeks. Some of the prisoners saw them and exclaimed, “It’s Rothelar! It’s Bast! It’s the princess’ retinue! Are you here to save us?”
Bast replied, “You bet your sweet asses we are! Everybody off!”
They hesitated, “Isn’t there a massacre going on out there?”
Rothelar answered, “Swim to the far side of the river. To the woods! But does anyone here know anything about sailing this ship?”
As the masses disembarked, a scraggly old wild elf stopped and said, “I am familiar with these ships.” Rothelar asked, “Friend, what can you tell me?” The elf answered, “Follow me.”
As they followed the old elf, they couldn’t help but notice one of his arms ended in a stump. There was a brand on his other hand, an imperial brand of thievery and piracy. Putting all that together jogged the memory of Fiona and she whispered to the others, “That’s Tanash the pirate! He lost his arm swinging from Highglen’s walls over the docks and the captain of the guard shot off his arm with a crossbow. Somehow he survived the fall and escaped! He’s feared in all the coastal towns, but he disappeared about ten years ago.”
Rothelar addressed Tanash, “If you can help us sail this vessel and rescue the princess, all your transgressions will be forgiven.”
The elf eyed him warily, “Boy, I don’t know what god you serve, but you are offering a lot of amnesty. I accept!” He led them to the highcastle. Inside was a waist-high ivory column. Resting on it was a golden orb, the only non-ivory piece they had seen on the ship thus far. He requested Rothelar to hold out his hand, and suddenly he had Bast’s dagger and he sliced open Rothelar’s hand and pushed it to the orb. In that instant, the cleric suddenly knew the ship. It was Songbird and was sitting here because that’s the last command it had received. Recognizing its sentience, Rothelar asked, “Is anyone else linked to you now?”
Not any more. My previous master was recently slain.
“Good. Take us to the far side of the river, then go downstream.” At the command, the boat glided through the water. Amazed, Rothelar turned to the wild elf and asked, “Can I get you anything, friend?”
Laughing, Tanash replied, “Get me out of this hellhole! No, I am with you until something better comes along and until I can repay this life-debt I owe you. What is your name?” He nodded at the answer, “And your companions?” Bast was the last to answer, and as she spoke her name, the elf cried out, “Demon!” and pointed downriver. Everyone spun and saw they were approaching the main bridge connecting the markets with The Lows.
On the bridge, there was another cloaked cultist. He, along with several others, were engaged with a group that had established a choke-point preventing them from gaining access to the city. The ragtag group of defenders didn’t look like the city guard. One of them was just a blur of carapace and extra arms. It paused for a brief moment, and Bast cried out exhultantly, “It’s the Spider King!” They watched as the Var lashed out with one of its pedipalps. The striker-arm caught one priest in the chest and lifted him up and threw him into the river. Doing so brought its attention to the boat and it stared at you for a brief moment, which was all the opening the cultist needed. His mace caught the Var in the face, spinning it around. At the sight of you, one of the cultists brought his staff up and slammed it to the bridge. Out of nowhere, two massive demons appeared and the priest dropped from sight as if his legs had been cut out from under him and the Spider King reappeared, striking out at the demons.
The demons ignored its attacks and focused their attention on the boat moving toward them. The Malebranche demons were hideous beasts; large horns protruded from scaly scalps. Rothelar heard Songbird say, I can deploy the ballista if you’d like. Knowing how powerful these demons were, Rothelar almost screamed in his panic, “YES! Deploy defenses!!!”
The ivory at the back and front of the vessel suddenly morphed into two organic looking canon arms with slots for someone to control them. The rear canon had one hole while the one at the front had two. Bast sprang forward, yelling at the defenders in the thieves’ cant, “Get off the bridge!” Her voice was magically amplified by her new dagger. She rammed her arms into the canon’s controls and fired at one of the demons. Myiar crystals lit up along the length of the canon and a magical blast struck the demon, taking off one of its arms and sending it flying into the river. It responded by creating a fireball and throwing it back at the pantheran. She ducked behind the canon, but the fireball engulfed the entire front of the ship, setting her fur on fire. She screamed in agony until Fiona put out the flames.
The other demon jumped from the bridge and landed in the center of the ship. Rothelar shoved his arm into the rear canon, swiveled it to point at the demon on deck, and fired. The demon moved faster than he had anticipated and dodged the magical blast. The Spider King killed another cultist and flung the body into the river, then followed by launching itself off the bridge. It twisted in the air and landed on the demon’s back, dagger first. The demon crumpled to the deck under the force of the blow, black blood staining the deck. The Spider King rolled to the side as Bast had swung the forecanon around and fired. The blast grazed the demon, and while it struck out at Bast, it hit the canon instead.
Rothelar had a clean shot at the creature’s back and took advantage with a direct hit. The creature arched its back in agony then hit the bridge with a crunch. The force of the blow knocked it back over Rothelar. It lashed out at him in the air, but he quickly dropped to the deck. The Malebranche landed with a splash behind the boat as it slid under the bridge.
In the brief moment they have, Bast drinks a healing potion and Rothelar casts a healing spell on her. They could hear the other demon running across the bridge to wait for them to emerge. The demon in the water struggled to its feet and sloshed its way toward them, the river only coming up to its waist.
Rothelar cried out for the boat to stop, and it responded immediately, throwing him from the highcastle. He landed at the feet of Bast, and looked up at the Spider King, who asked wondrously, “What the hell is this ship?” Bast explained that they had taken it from slaver traders. The Spider King nodded then yelled, “Demon!” and jumped to the highcastle. He fired the aftcanon at the Malebranche in the water; the magical energy blew the head off the demon and the entire creature dissolved to ash.
Bast swung the forecanon so that it pointed at the bridge above them and looked for some sign of where the other demon was. She spotted some dust falling and blasted away at it. The magic tore a hole through the stone and she could see the other demon dissolve to ash, some of which fell through the hole, dusting the boat.
Rothelar commanded, “Let’s get out of here!” and the boat continued its movement down the river. The Spider King protested, “Wait! My place is here in the city!”
Bast explained, “Yes, but the city may not be stable at the moment and may not be a good location for you to be.”
“Do you know where the princess will be?”
“She’s supposed to be meeting us at this rendezvous point we’re going to downriver.”
He sheathed his daggers then requested as he went below deck, “Very well, but let us submerge this vessel.”
Rothelar asked Songbird incredulously, “You can do that?”
In response, the ivory sides of the boat started growing up and closing in over the center of the boat. The group followed the Spider King below deck.