Hours have passed since the sudden battle with the cult of the Crushing Wave, yet the moon still hovers above the Keepers Oath. It all happened so fast, like a rushing current of enemies flooding the decks. And now here we float, nearly stagnant. The sheer amount of damage wrought upon the ship itself is bewildering. The central mast has fallen, destroying the ability to make full sail to proceed forward. Then there is the loss of crewmen, most of the dead have washed overboard in the wake of battle. I know not what traditions these sailors may have had for the dead, but there are now so many bodies lost to the sea that it doesn’t seem to matter. We have to pull together and care for the wounded, clear the debris, and survey the wreckage to see what repairs are possible. Drak’thal calls us over to discuss these repairs and I know it’s going to be a long night. His expression is more grim than I have seen in a long time, and Shava shares it. She heads to the surgeon’s room to look after Krunak after a brief exchange with the captain. There is no way that we can rest tonight, we are adrift.
Elurin conjures a few owls to check the waters before Drak’thal casts a spell to allow the crew to walk on the water beside the damaged hull. I do not envy these men as they climb over the side, their fear is visible yet they endure it for the sake of everyone. He told me to make this my home, Drak.. and while it is not my home, it is certainly the crew’s home. Oppie called it such, and now he is gone. Crushed by the crow’s nest he manned every day, among friends. By sunrise, we know it will be a number of days until the ship will be able to go on.
All remain busy for the next five days as tar is slurried over planks, supply lines pass nails and wood from hand to hand. The sun rises and sets again and again as the wounded recover. The final head count of the crew stands at 54 men. Sheets, shirts, and every cloth found aboard are sewn together into a patchwork set of sails. This will do for now, and we sail onward to Port Alsodoesnthaveaname. Time moves slow, as does the Keepers Oath, but we’re moving.
Though the damage from the battle has cost us an additional five days in travel, I realize that we should send word home about the attack. Gods, what of home now? There have been attacks on both the new settlements of Glassmoor and now our ship. Safety is fleeting, and my worries rise like the tide.
I seek out Drak’thal for help, asking to send a message back. He seems confused, maybe distracted, thinking that I mean by bird? The morale must be concerning him, everyone is exhausted after all. I write down the words on a parchment at his desk and he relays them to Kline, “Attack at sea by water cult, lost many men, all Keepers safe. Ship severely damaged, continuing on. Keep home safe.” The halfling concentrates a moment with his eye closed and I watch him expectantly. His eye opens and he looks up to me, “Be safe, carry onward. What of the other officers?” I nod to Drakthal and we relay the status of each officer. Shava safe. Krunak, lost a leg. Meagan deceased. Our surgeon, safe. Sven, safe. Drak waits for a reply but nothing comes. I thank him and leave him to ship business, charting or something. The next forty-two days pass without attack, but they drag by as the heat of the south envelopes the ship.
Arriving at port, Shava arranges repairs with the harbormaster at the cost of 2,000 gold or losing four of our already short crew to work the docks. The helmswoman eyes us, “You all need to find some treasure here.” We all exchange glances, knowing that we will all chip in every coin of gold we carry and every bit we find at the temple. Our group fund is lighter than usual after that last trip to Gilmore’s… but gold is the only route home. We have lost enough of the crew, we can’t leave them behind.
Thankfully the harbormaster covered our lodging at the Upton Lodge because of the late hour of arrival. We could spend the night drinking what looked like a tasty special, a purple and red swirling tonic. It was sweet for a second, then turned out to be the worst damn headache I have ever had. Every noise was like a scream in my ears. Traelle and Thirin seemed to have a bad time of it as well. Her mop of red hair lay on the table in misery for the better part of the evening, and Thirin looked irritable. He’s normally so excited to be out at a tavern, but could only bemoan how terrible he felt. Earth, Wind, & Shire were there. They were so loud, and the sconces were all flickering and annoyingly bright. And then there were the two levitating assholes sitting across the table from us.
Both Drak and Elurin had a great ole’ time. I dragged myself to my private room to sandwich my head between the bed and my pillow, “One more song! One more song!” chanted downstairs til the band played on and I curled up into a ball of pain til I fell asleep. Morning light from the small window woke me like a knife, the headache had stayed with me.
Smug bastards floated around for the next two days while the lot of us got to deal with the ongoing pain in our heads. Traveling inland through an ever-growing layer of smoke and heat must be fun when your feet don’t touch the ground. I think I heard Elurin and Drak’thal conspiring to use the Silence spell. Vith dos, I can hear you loud idiots saying that! Sure I could have said it aloud but my head hurt too bad to bother. Of course later in the day, Elurin asked about our last time in the south and I tried my best to recount it all to him. The rift from the bag, the halfling family desecrating Javor’s tomb. Drak’s change, the druids and werewolves and direbears. The life boon declared by Fennor for saving us from her daughter’s vision of our deaths. I was quiet for a long time after that, my head felt worse from all the talking.
A day’s walk later, we spotted a strange tornado in the distance. It looked like a man? No, an orc. Like a dervish that spun with two scimitars and a rat upon his shoulder. What the hell is that? After all of us took notice of the bizarre sight, Thirin remarked, “That man knows how to live!” At the next establishment we passed through, we were sure to ask after the oddity and were given an answer by a barkeep. “Oh yes, that is the legendary Whoghulgat al-Woghol. He’s been spinning for the last 17 years.” Thirin seemed impressed, but I just looked at Traelle astonished. We continued on towards the fire cult with that spinning wonder to contemplate.
Eventually we reached the tower where the fire orb had been recovered many months before, and descended the stairs beneath to the temple. When Drak’thal pulled the orb from his robe to open the door, figures moved in the shadows. A woman with blazing red hair stepped forward, weapons at her side. Fennor. She nodded to the captain, then looked to me. “Shall we?” I nodded in return. Should I have said something? I didn’t expect her to be entering the domain of the fire cultists alongside us, but with Krunak so terribly wounded, who else could? She took the orb from the tiny captain to place it into the recess of the stone door, opening the passage. Traelle paused and gathered us for words of encouragement before we all stepped into the dim hall.
The corridor is lit by magically maintained torches and full of a thin smoke. Fire cultist, always leaving the fire burning. Only a few steps inside, I find a secret door to a small room lined with burnt tapestries and a writing desk. A red-skinned man looks shocked that anyone entered through this back door at all. He asks if we are the ones who caused trouble last time, but I deflect the question asking who he is. He answers, “Bastion Thermander. I am second in command at the fire cult here.” He professes an allegiance to the fire itself rather than their leader, a woman named Vanifer. “If it were up to me, there would be no violence. We are here to worship the flame, she is here to dominate.”
Bastion claims that she is the truly dangerous one, especially with Tinderstrike in her hands. We strike a deal with this disciple of fire, despite the fact that we squabble over whether or not we could trust the man’s words. He draws us a map to Vanifer’s chambers if we promise to overthrow her and bring back her dagger, Tinderstrike. We agree. An uneasy alliance. Once we see the map, I do not trust it. The path leads from this room through another and straight to Vanifer’s supposed chambers. The easy path is not always the right path. Last time… The memory of our last encounter with the fire cult, running through the encampments and straight to the tower, getting cut off by all those enemies comes to my mind. Drak’thal doesn’t trust this man for he is a genasi. Traelle says Bastion’s words are genuine, “We have a decent idea of what to expect going this way.” Elurin and Fennor watch and listen as the discussion swirls around and back again. Thirin just wants to get to battle regardless of what route we take. “We could just go in there and smash ‘em real hard.”
Ultimately, I address Bastion, “We thank you for the map and though it may be the most direct route that you surely travel through to avoid bother from the guards and others, I believe we should go out and come back around to eliminate any trouble we may encounter later.” This man seems genuine in his want to control the worship of the cultists, he wants us to get rid of this Vanifer, but it does not change the fact that he is a member of the cult. What did those letters say about them? Those of the Eternal Flame wish to purify the world by turning it to ash? At that moment I am only certain that we should explore more before facing Vanifer. And so we exit through the secret door hidden in the stone hallway, leaving Bastion to his private room.
Up ahead there are rubble barricades on either side before stairs rise. The barricades prove difficult for Thirin and Drak’thal in battle against a group of hobgoblins, while Fennor vaults over and kills without hardship. I see Elurin take position with his longbow, and so I attempt to flip over the wall after Traelle. Landing is a bit harder when you get shot with an arrow mid-flight. In the end, the hobgoblins all fall and we take a moment to search their bodies. After handing off gold to Traelle and turning back to the bodies, two huge men in dark armor lunge at Elurin and I.
The chest of their armor holds a fire orb, something we have not seen before. These foes prove strong as they put up a fight against the six of us, but when one falls… he explodes. My ears ring and a putrid dusting of blood covers us all. The remaining enemy fights on despite his disintegrated companion, before he also falls by Traelle’s blade and explodes across the room. Fennor looks at all of us, “Well that was fucked up.” A short rest behind the barricades offers a moment to breath. I wipe the blood off my face, we all look disgusting and I don’t imagine it will get any better.
Up the stairs, I take the lead through a domed room with four obsidian pillars—-it feels like I’ve roasted myself alive. The rest of the group watches as I cry out in pain, and decides to skirt the sides of the room instead. The next hall proves less treacherous until I open a locked door and find two swords in my stomach. One door after another opens and erupts with a new cultist throwing fireballs or dousing themselves in flame.
The hall becomes a battleground of fire and blade, with some confusion as some kind of compulsion is cast over Thirin. I see him turn to strike me. No not my fingers again! No no no! Something knocks sense into him, probably another fireball at the rate they’re being tossed at us all. Elurin also finds himself under the control of a flaming woman fighting Traelle. As the battle winds down and the woman in flames finally dies, I once again look for what coin or jewels we may find on the deceased. Gods, we are burnt and bloodied and tired.
With the locks broken on the deceased cultists’ rooms and the scorch of fire all over the walls, we retire to one of the rooms to decide where to go next. It is quiet until a slithering voice slides down the hall, “You killed the ssssssslavedriverssss…” Another more brusque voice echoes, “Alright, free us now eh?” Each of us exchange a glance before making for the hall towards the voices.
Four prison cells line the left and right, with the last cell door hanging open and empty. The left houses four salamander creatures, and the right holds six dwarves that appear to be on fire. They all ask for freedom, each group promising to fight with us as reward. Unfortunately they aren’t so keen on fighting alongside each other. I can’t just let one group out with both offering to help, so I propose a compromise. All will be released to do as they will, but those who wish to join us and fight the cult can come along.
The salamanders say that they know the temple as their home, “We inhabited this temple before these cultists came, they rounded us up and placed us here.” The Azer dwarves are only here in search of a great forge, they have come from deep in the Underdark where magma flows to see it. Elurin says that they all seem to be sincere in their want for freedom, though Drak’thal continues to ask more questions of the dwarves. Traelle agrees that we should all fight together, but when the locks are opened and the prisoners freed, the Azers promptly flip off Drak’thal and leave. I wonder if they would have been nicer had he still been a dwarf? Maybe, maybe not.