The Age of Tooth & Claw- Chapter Four: The Devil is our homeboy

With the rescued prisoners in tow, the party has fled back into Slaughter Swamp. They’ve run until they no longer could, leaving Home engulfed in flames behind them. It is now just before dawn, and the smaller of the two moons has set above them. The sky is dark, heavy with rolling black clouds. There is no sign of the sun and the air is thick, sticky, and still. With a crack of thunder, a torrential downpour of rain began to fall.

     An exhausted Firekeeper Charr chastised Brand, telling her that she has delivered to the Brutal Horde exactly what they had sought- the gift of the sacred flame. Their only hope is that the approaching storm will douse any fire that they left behind, and keep its secrets from Warlord D’Kwann. Seeing Brand’s obvious disappointment, Charr softened slightly and thanked her for the rescue. Clearly Brand and her allies had learned much in the year that they were gone from the village. Brand was shocked. She knew that time had passed strangely when they were in the Feywild, but had no idea that it had been so long.

Talking to Vauldrak is unsettling, as his eyes independently rotate a 360 degrees.

Talking to Vauldrak is unsettling, as his eyes independently rotate a 360 degrees.

     It was only now that the group discovered they had liberated another slave, a chameleon named Vauldrak. His stealth abilities had kept him concealed until now. Now that the group was taking a rest, he noticed Walks Without Purpose’s strange wooden hand. Even though Vauldrak had been locked in a cage, he had overheard news about the party’s initial attack at the docks. Clearly this was the same hand responsible for the explosion of plant growth that had destroyed half of the village.

     The group investigated the Bone Devil. He was bound in spider-silk manacles that had no discernible locking mechanism. Since he was unable to walk or even move, the Komodo fighting slave known as Killer had been forced to carry Rashke the bone devil during their escape. Brand attempted to cut him free, but her claws were unable to make any progress. Unbeknownst to the rest of the group, during their imprisonment Vauldrak had overheard Gor the Brutal Bard speak the command word for the Manacles of Lloth, the Abyssal phrase"araneæ texuerunt." For now the Chameleon keept his knowledge of the Manacles of Lloth secret. Sticking close to Firekeeper Charr’s side, he suggested repeatedly to the group that they should leave Slaughter Swamp. The Jungles of Koth would be safer, he opinioned.

     Vauldrak followed Hsessriss as he patrolled their perimeter. The Ranger agreed with him about Koth. They made plans to lay a false trail north, into the Stygian Desert, then arc to the Southwest and follow the River Styxx into the jungle. Suddenly Hsessriss froze still. He heard the approach of 8 mounted figures and one large Lizardfolk on foot. They had mere moments to prepare themselves against the Brutal Horde. Walks Without Purpose leapt atop a large rock and issued orders to the group. Brand whispered a quick prayer to Rae, and hoped that Firekeeper Charr would forgive her upcoming blatant use of fire. Jones fled into the jungle with a squeal of terror. Hsessriss set a snare trap and hid himself for ambush. Vauldrak helped Firekeeper Charr hide, pausing to tell her that she would be much safer in the Jungles of Koth. Of the remaining freed slaves Ashur the Rattler gave up and slumped to the ground, defeated. He seemed shell-shocked, and unwilling to take any action. Fighting Slave Worm Food abandoned the group and fled deep into the swamp by himself. Fighting Slave Kavar the Starving and Bug the Thri-Kreen were too battered from their torture and imprisonment to do any more than hunker down and prepare for the worst. Fighting Slave Killer hefted the fettered Bone Devil onto his shoulder and charged towards the approaching Horde.

The Twins, O’Kel & O’Tor

The Twins, O’Kel & O’Tor

     During the thunderstorm deluge the terrain became difficult to transverse, and everyone was only able to move at half of their regular movement. Ranged attacks and perception were also at disadvantage, unless people took at least partial cover. An advance squad of 4 Horde Archers and 4 Barbarians mounted on Riding Lizards were followed by a bizarre two-headed lizardman referred to collectively as “The Twins” Vauldrak knew of him from overhearing gossiping guards and watching the crowds at Warlord D’Kwann’s circus. Their individual names were O’kel & O’tor, and they were the favorite of Aghra the Druid.

     As the Horde charged them, the party took what ranged attacks they could. The downpour made it difficult to connect with thrown javelins, but both Brand’s Sacred Flame and Jones’ Magic Missiles were able to connect and do some damage. Walks Without Purposes’ Ki was depleted, but he was able to successfully snatch an arrow out of the air before it hit him. Arrows peppered into Killer and Rashke, but they ignored any damage in their bloodlust. An arrow nearly hit Brand, but she was able to magically deflect it in time. The blind slave mistress Baa was less lucky, and was slain by a single arrow to the chest. The heroes had hoped to gain information from her, but saw her death as no great loss.

 

IMG_2495.JPG

     Vauldrak knew that it was risky, but they could really use help from Rashke the Bone Devil. He whispered the command phrase for the Manacles of Lloth, and the magical bonds fell to the ground. With a horrifying screech, the Bone Devil unfurled his wings and flew at the Horde in a rage. Hsessriss’ snare pulled a riding lizard into the trees, catapulting its rider off. The Gloomstalker ambushed his prey, striking with his enchanted spear Bleeder, then fading back into darkness. As the Horde surged forward, Brand, Walks Without Purpose, and Vauldrak flanked their enemies and battled them hand to hand. Killer and Rashke led the pack in kills. Rom her hidden location, Jones alternated between Magic Missiles and attempting the Suggestion spell. Her chief tactic was to claim to be their god, but she was able to convince one of the Horde to leave the battle and return home. Fighting Slave Killer pursued him, leaving the rest of the group.

     The heroes surrounded the barbarians, peppering them with attacks to distract them. Vauldrak hid beneath slave mistress Baa’s corpse, striking out with sneak attacks. Her spells exhausted, Brand used her fae gift and breathed a gout of flame as an attack. The inscrutable Yuan-Ti Firekeeper Charr made no comment. Once the final Brutal Horde warrior had fallen to the team’s superior combat tactics, the final fight was between Rashke the Bone Devil and the Twins. Both had been grievously injured, but the Twins had been able to recover with a second wind.

     The rest of the group joined with the devil, aiding it against the two-headed lizardman. Jones attempted to telepathically taunt the Twins with their impending death, but got an odd response. O’kel revealed his fanaticism, proudly announcing that they lived only to die as a cult offering for the Schizoid King. His conjoined brother O’tor seemed terrified of the thought of death, plead for his life.  Hsessriss scaled a nearby tree and struck the killing blow with Bleeder. Their mortal wound bubbled with black, necrotic puss.

     To everyone’s rising unease, O’tor seemed to outlive his brother and began to cry pathetically for help. “Brother? Brother, I cannot feel you! Where are you,” the conjoined lizardman begged. “It’s dark and I cannot feel you! I am scared of the dark!” An uneasy Walks Without Purpose administered a killing blow at the base of the skull with his quarterstaff. 

Rashke the Bone Devil

Rashke the Bone Devil

     The battle done, the rain began to lessen to a misting drizzle. Rashke pivoted and faced the rest of the group. The Bone Devil was visibly shaking with anger. Vauldrak scurried for cover as everyone else readied their weapons. They all feared the infernal creature, but respected his clear battle prowess.

     “The Chameleon,” bellowed Rashke. Bring him to me!” Clearly Rashke knew that it had been Vauldrak who had freed him from the Manacles of Lloth, and now sought some form of violence against him. Rashke grabbed Hsessriss around the throat and pulled him from the tree. The Devil snarled, “You have until the count of three!”

     Vauldrak is very good at stealth, and nobody could see where the Chameleon had hidden. He silently picked up the Manacles of Lloth and crept towards the Bone Devil. Hsessriss agreed to look for Vauldrak, and started a box perimeter check. He had not gone more than a few steps when Vauldrak threw the manacles at Rashke and spoke the command word. They immediately ensnared the devil, his screams muffled to an angry hiss.

     The group gathered around the shackled Bone Devil to discuss their strategy going forward. Rashke had shown them how powerful he was. He was a fantastic resource as an ally, but not one that they could afford to fall into their enemy’s hands. As a show of loyalty to the group, Vauldrak explained to them how the Manacles of Lloth functioned, what he had learned of them while imprisoned, and taught them all the command word. Jones recognized it as the Infernal words “Spider’s Web.”

The Compact of Slaughter Swamp is sealed.

The Compact of Slaughter Swamp is sealed.

     Firekeeper Charr told them that while she was no friend of Rashke, she had spent many months imprisoned with him. The Devil seemed to have some form of honor in the way that he conducted himself in the arena. If he said he would do something, nothing could stop him from keeping his word. She felt that if they were able to fashion some form of agreement with the infernal creature, he would uphold at least the letter of the deal. Brand leaned towards making a deal with the devil, Walk Without Purpose suggested that they simply bury it alive and leave it to be someone else’s problem. Such a fate seemed too grisly for Hsessriss. The Gloomstalker suggested that they simply make a deal to go their separate ways and never see each other again. Vauldrak was terrified that the devil wanted to kill him as punishment for not freeing it earlier. He insisted that whatever deal that they made with the devil specify his safety in the long term.

The Manacles of Lloth

The Manacles of Lloth

After long negotiation, the party agreed to let Firekeeper Charr speak on their behalf. She was not afraid to parlay with the devil. Mysteriously she stated that she knew that she didn’t die this day.  Vauldrak released the Manacles of Lloth, freeing the devil as a gesture of good will. They offered an alliance to Rashke, a mutual-protection pact for their travels where they would aid each other against the Brutal Horde. A seething Rashke announced that while he hated the Horde, his true enemy were the Tanar'ri that they served. The blood war between the Tanar'ri & Baatezu was his focus. If the party aided him against the Tanar’ri, then he would agree and seal the Compact of Slaughter Swamp.

     The party knew that they had just faced advance scouts. The rest of the Brutal Horde would be behind them, closing in soon. They also knew that they were too beleaguered to face the Horde in their current condition. Brand used the last of her magical healing to stabilize Rashke. Hsessriss collected heads as trophies, piling them upon a confiscated riding lizard and sending it back to the village. He then gathered meat from their kills, carefully avoiding anyone slain by Bleeder. Their flesh would be clearly contaminated with necrosis. Walks Without Purpose and Jones helped load the remaining folk onto the Horde’s riding lizards, and the group road off into the jungle.