The trip began uneventfully. A day’s journey by sea, and the weather was calm. Red skies forecast rain before morning, and sure enough rain began in the early hours of the morning. It was fine at first, no more than a drizzle, but it strengthened in the hours before dawn, to the point where those who were not followers of Caelian were awoken by the noise of the rain and the increasing loud shouts on deck.
Lady Locher and Pat the Cunning Ham emerged out onto the deck to see the crew scuttling from place to place, and Captain Saaz looked grim at the wheel. But before the Lady Locher could ask whether they needed assistance, both she and Pat were astonished to see the crewmen nearby fall to the deck. A few feet away, a man with a silver tooth clearly drooled a thick foam onto the scarred wooden planks.
A low moan rang out from the quarterdeck, and Pat saw the captain fall to his knees, hands clasped around his head. The wheel spun in the freshening wind, and the boat jerked sideways underneath them. A droning, insectile sound filled the air, and Lady Locher looked upwards toward the sound.
Above, a mosquito-like creature, but much larger, was ripping the sails to shreds. Lady Locher and Pat stood in astonishment for a moment, then sprung into action.
“Wake the Caelians!” yelled Locher as she sped forward toward the mizzen. Lucky and Columpick, bleary-eye and redolent of ale, emerged and immediately sprang into action: Columpick to examine the unconscious sailors, Lucky to the quarterdeck to try and either assist Saaz or wrest the ship back under control. Pat and Locher attempted to stop the creature’s destruction of the sails, but nimble as it was, it managed to dodge out of the way of their attacks.
Lady Locher approached closer to the creature, but lost sight of it in the rain and flapping or torn canvas in the wind. It had flown off to starboard, wheeling back with a screech to impale Lucky as he tried to revive the captain. The razor-sharp proboscis took Lucky in the abdomen, piercing his vitals and staggering him to the deck. No one saw the vicious attack, and none heard Lucky’s cries of pain. Lucky’s armor wasn’t all the way cinched, which left him vulnerable, and by the time the rest of the party saw his distress, the creature had pinned him to the deck and was draining his blood.
The party came to the rescue, but the cagey creature wasn’t about to wait around for death. He slung Lucky overboard with a toss of his head and turned to face the rest. They scattered, each in their own way trying to locate and save Lucky from the briny deep. Columpick conjured a fighting mug to crush the creature, while Pat’s cloak flew to attack like a thing possessed. The creature fell backwards over the storm-tossed ocean, while Lady Locher scanned the sea for her new drummer.
It was all to no avail. Lucky’s ferocity kept him conscious long enough to strip off his brigandine and let slip his scimitar belt, but his blood rushed into the sea and consciousness escaped him. AS his eyes shut for the last time, the sea dragged him slowly below the waves, one more soul added to the legion of watery dead.
The mosquito demon fled soon after, and Columpick found and dragged Lucky’s corpse from the ocean. “I shall raise him, in Cayden’s name!” he declared.
“Your god may not release him,” Pat said, one arm gently squeezing the priest’s shoulder in commiseration. “Good drummers are hard to find… and Lucky was the best.” He looked wistfully out to sea. “I never heard bongos played like that before. And… I imagine I never will again.”
Columpick looked thoughtful. “I will ask him what he wishes before I drag his spirit back from Pharasma’s grasp,” he said.
The slept fitfully and tried to patch the sails as best they could in the morning but to no avail. The crew groggily took over and were able to bring some semblance of control to the beleaguered ship, but the pall of Lucky’s death – so cheerful in life, his demise was an emptiness that couldn’t easily be filled. It was only a few hours after dawn.
A boy in the crow’s nest pointed to the west. Captain Saaz, much recovered, turned the wheel in the direction of the gestures and the ship shifted slightly below their feet. Morningstar Isle hove into view, and the party was surprised to see a robust fortress atop the volcanic hill that formed the peak of the small island. As if on cue, everyone abord ship heard the baying of some immense animal.
“I’ll get you in!” Saaz, cautious but well aware of his duty to Lady Locher, threaded the ship toward the rustic pier, but none could miss the obvious signs of combat taking place in the incongruent keep. The party disembarked and made way as fast as they were able to the gates of the keep. The portcullises were down, but the courtyard was visible: hell hounds, arrayed against guards in livery reminiscent of the Castleanters. And the humans were losing.
“To me,” Columpick said matter-of-factly. He grasped the hands of the other two and Dimension Door’d the trio into the courtyard.
The group was silent as they took the fight to the hounds, with Columpick bringing forth a drunken bear from Caelian’s realm. “Fight them, bear; do our drunken lord’s bidding.” The bear belched, then charged roaring into the flaming fray. The battle was hard fought – at one point an air elemental joined the fray, but it was difficult to determine on whose side the creature was, so much chaos did it sew. At one point, Pat was paralyzed and on fire, but ultimately the hell hounds were dispatched.
In the comparative silence that descended after last hellhound, a call sounded from the battlements. “Who are you?” Atop the walkway were two men, armed with bows, looking down into the courtyard. “Why are you here?”
Lady Locher looked up from the courtyard, but Columpick spoke first: “I am a servant of this Knight of the Heavens!” he shouted. “Where is your bar? Is there drink available?”
Lady Locher was distracted, however: inside one of the open doors, her ability to detect evil had shown brightly. Inside was a portal, pulsating red and orange.
“The contract must be fulfilled!” came a voice in Infernal from the walkway. All looked up in time to see one of the hapless bowmen being thrown over the battlement to the ground below. The creature stared down at them in anger, then disappeared from view. The sounds of battle and the cries of wounded men filled the air above.
“That is the evil I saw,” Lady Locher said quietly. “We must get up there.”
Above, the party commenced fighting the legate from the hells, even as he chewed through the Castelanter defenses. For indeed, this fortress was indeed Catelanter, and Lady Castelanter herself was amidst the fray. The orthon legate seemed perturbed by the new arrivals: “Do not interfere!” it yelled as it tore another Castelanter guardsman to pieces. “They have signed a contract with a lord of the hells! This is not your concern!”
Lady Locher did not hesitate. Calling upon the powers of her deity, she smote the legate with a crushing, holy-magic infused blow that stagged the creature. Lady Castelanter capitalized on the opportunity – lightning sprang from her hands in an ear-splitting screech. The spell’s power washed over Pat and Columpick as well, but the bulk of the energy slammed into the orthon legate, and it exploded into nothingness.
The silence that descended was thick, as the two noblewomen eyes each other across a scatter of dead or dying men. Lady Locher finally spoke.
“Lady Castelanter, I presume?”
Lady Castelanter leaned heavily against the wall of the battlements, obviously exhausted, and equally obviously exhausted from more than the recent battle.
“Are the children safe?” Lady Locher asked
Castelanter sighed heavily: “They are… for the moment.” Lady Castelanter voice, though strained, was yet noble and darkly pleasant. “You will require more information, of course. Let us remove ourselves from this place of death.”
Inside, the accoutrements were befitting the wealthiest family on the Sword Coast. Tables of thick marble sot with bright quartz, cups of silver, tapestries obscuring the stone walls. Lady Castelanter had recovered some of her imperiousness, and she and Lady Locher sat, and a grim-faced servant poured wine.
“The reason that my children and I are in this predicament is because of your family,” Lady Castelanter explained. “Your father and my husband were great friends, but as your father grew in power, my husband… he wished nothing more than to assist your father as his influence grew. But he couldn’t help in the one is that your father needed the most: money.”
Lady Castelanter took a long drink of her wine. “After years of failure in this regard, after years of increasing desperate deals with increasingly dubious sources, he found… a solution. An infernal solution. Asmodeus himself. Then, he began to make money.” She gestured broadly around the room. “Lots of money.”
Lady Castelanter’s eyes were bright and wet. “Our first child was taken at age eleven, as part of this arrangement. The others approach the same age, and we couldn’t bear their loss. My husband has secured the in a mirror – their spirits languish there, in stasis, unaware of the passage of the hazard that my husband has previously put the to. Since his hiding them, he has been bending his attention to stratagems designed to invalidate the contract he made.”
Lady Castelanter made a silent spitting noise, her lips setting in a moue. “He thought that we would be safe here, far from home. He was of course incorrect. But I we release the children… they will be taken. There is no doubt of that.”
“What of the creature that attacked us?”
“I sent it,” Castelanter said with a wave of her hand. “I had no idea that it was you. It was a demon of my acquaintance.”
“We lost a man, due to your demon.” Lady Locher did not look pleased.
“These are desperate times, and I have one priority – one priority only. And that is the protection of my children. All other considerations are secondary… or inconsequential. Interpret that as you wish.”