Session 7: Venomfang
The party's suspicions were all but confirmed when they reached the ruined house at the base of the hill; a mat of thick, sticky webbing covered the road into the trees on the other side and coated the ruins. When they approached to cut through the web, a pair of enormous spiders clambered over the wall and towards them! Fighting was made more difficult by the webbing; its stickiness made walking through it slow and risky, tripping or falling would result in becoming hopelessly wrapped up in the webs. As if that weren't enough, the spiders worked to rapidly encase their prey in a cocoon of webbing, rendering them unable to fight and vulnerable to their poison stingers. Once more, the cultists' inexperience was made clear, except for Favric, who seemed eager to fight. It turned out the house had been hiding another two spiders, which skittered out to help their brethren. But this did not deter the party, and soon all the spiders had been vanquished. Using a torch to burn away the webbing, and helping up their stuck comrades, they cleared the path and soon the way up to the hill was before them. The rain lessened while they climbed. The path was long, with many switchbacks, because the hill was steep. While they walked, Coryn noticed a gray squirrel that had been sitting on a tree at the base of the hill, and seemed to have begun following them. It hopped from tree to tree, never letting the party get too far from it. When Coryn mentioned this to the party, Malcolm attempted to grab it with a Mage Hand, but missed and the squirrel scurried away, back into the trees. Soon they reached the crown of the hill, and a forty-foot-tall tower loomed before them. Favric led the way quietly into a small attached cottage. Inside, he stopped and asked everyone to gather around. He described the plan to treat with the dragon: that he would do the talking, and the party was to follow them in and look powerful. If something went wrong, he would repair relations as best he could, but that going near a dragon was always a risk. He mentioned that he and the others were prepared for bexnosta, a Draconic word translating to something like "submission", but did not elaborate further on what that meant. With that, Favric, the cultists, and the party entered the tower. Much of it was in darkness, but half of the roof had collapsed, letting a gray light in to suffuse the room. A spiral staircase ascended around the outer edge to end in a balcony on the opposite side of the tower. Directly below, on the floor of the tower, a green dragon rested on a small hoard of treasure. Favric called out to the dragon in Draconic, calling it Tulanthir (which translated to Venomfang). The dragon slowly lifted itself off of its hoard and made its way to meet Favric in the center of the room. The negotiations were tense. Though some of the cultists were quivering, Favric did not seem to show fear. He lauded the dragon for its appearance and lair, and then humbly asked for its alliance, stating that they could learn much from it. But he was cut off by a grin from the dragon and an amused exhale of hot, acrid breath. Venomfang appreciated that Favric's teachers had taught him well, but he seemed to have forgotten to say what was in it for the dragon. Favric said that his group had much wealth, and that the dragon need only name his price; that elicited a chuckle from the dragon, who responded that it was a dangerous thing for a dragon to name his price. And in any case, Venomfang had more esoteric interests; the dragon wanted regular "visitors" to come to see it as part of its tribute. Becoming suspicious, Malcolm readied a spell in case something went wrong. After a pause, Favric said that visitors could be arranged, but the dragon was still not satisfied. It wanted a sample of its tribute to demonstrate the cult's good will. It acknowledged Favric's diamonds for the wealth they represented, but wished for houseguests, asking Favric with whom it would have the pleasure of becoming acquainted. Favric extended a hand to the adventurers and told it that these offerings had been brought specifically for the dragon! The party pulled their weapons--they had been sold out! As Favric turned, Malcolm cast his readied spell--True Strike--on the dragon. The dragon descended onto the adventurers while Marcus threw himself off to the side, moving to the staircase. There was barely enough time for Malcolm to fire a scorching ray of magic at the dragon before it was upon them. The dragon's breath was debilitating. Everyone but Marcus was caught in the blast--including some of the cultists and Favric. Though William withstood it, everyone else fell to the poisonous fumes. Adelaide was standing directly in front of the dragon and took the worst of its breath point-blank; to anyone watching, there was no way she could have survived. Two cultists chased Marcus up the stairs, as he made his way to the balcony halfway up the tower. Before he could react, however, a gray squirrel emerged over the rim of the tower, rapidly changing form into a familiar man, clad in green, wielding a staff--Reidoth! With a blast of golden light from his staff, new strength filled the adventurers, and they rose to their feet, beginning to turn the fight back against Venomfang. But Venomfang was not deterred. He went for the one adventurer that escaped his breath: Marcus. The dragon caught him between his teeth and shook him like a dog shakes a rabbit, flinging him, unconscious, against a wall. Mighty tail sweeps and claws cowed the adventurers. The party used every ability they had against the dragon. Some sword-thrusts were deflected, some spells flew wide; but others did pierce its scales and hide. Marcus was not down for good; healing magic brought him back from the brink, and it was not from Reidoth: somehow, Adelaide had survived! In a daring move, she ran straight at the dragon to blast it with necrotic energy. Arrows from Marcus peppered its back and wings; William caught it with a flying leap from the staircase; Coryn took aim at its vulnerable legs and belly, stumbling it. Spells flew from Malcolm's hands. Reidoth called down a column of pale light from the sky, burning with fire where it touched the dragon. Under this onslaught, the dragon decided to forsake its lair and take to the sky. It took one of the surviving cultists in its claws, paused for a moment, its mouth directly next to Favric's ear, and then spread its wings to take off. Not, however, before Coryn managed to grab onto its hind leg as it left the ground. Arrows and ranged spells flew at the overburdened dragon. Some of them managed to pierce its wings, staggering its flight slightly. At the sight of his comrades dead, dying, or being carried away, the last cultist fled. Somehow, Coryn clung to the dragon, and in an impressive feat of acrobatics, managed to climb to its back. With a series of powerful punches and elbows, he pummeled its wing shoulder, already in pain from the arrows and strain of carrying two humans, eliciting a roar in response. The dragon began to climb higher and faster. The rest of the party ran out of the tower to follow it. They knew they needed to do something before the dragon went any higher; otherwise Coryn wouldn't survive the fall. Malcolm prepared to cast Sleep, but before doing so, he noticed the cultist hanging from the dragon's claws. If the spell affected him too, it wouldn't do enough to bring down the dragon. So, with seconds before the dragon escaped, Malcolm made a last-moment adjustment to the wording of the spell and the shape of the magic, and then cast the spell. The air shimmered just in front of the dragon's nose. Coryn passed through something that felt like a cold shower, and then noticed that he was weightless. The dragon's wings streamed uselessly behind it; its whole body was limp, falling from forty feet in the air, and he could do nothing but hold on as it pitched forward into the forest. A bright green light erupted from the druid's staff and flew through the trees below like a wave; the trees bent in response. Coryn fell through an endless sea of branches and leaves; he lost his grip on the dragon, buffeted on all sides, tumbling and somersaulting. The ones watching from the tower saw the green shape descend into the trees, heard a dull whump, and then silence. The party pushed their way into the trees to find Coryn flat on his back, dazed and stunned, but alive. The dragon had plowed an eighty-foot-long furrow into the earth where it landed; trees lay splintered on either side. It was dead. Reidoth seemed to be in a state of shock. After a moment, he held out a finger and whistled into the trees. A hummingbird flew to him and listened while he whispered something to it, then flew off again. Once the adventurers' initial elation had subsided, the question soon arose of what to do with the dragon: many parts could be useful or valuable. Reidoth affirmed that it was part of the course of nature to claim one's kill, but cautioned the party to at least allow the bones to lie where they did. It took a surprising amount of work (owing in equal parts to the party's inexperience and the resiliency of dragon scales and hide), but by the end of the day they had claimed several scales, teeth, and talons as trophies, as well as a sample of dragon's blood, and a segment of hide. From the tower, the party then set about gathering the dragon's hoard, which included hundreds of coins, some magical scrolls, and a rusty battleaxe with dwarven runes inscribed into it. They also retrieved the diamonds Favric had brought as tribute, as well as his dragon mask. As the sun began to set, the clouds began to clear slightly. The adventurers returned gingerly to the druid's residence, nursing their injuries and basking in their accomplishment. The sun dropped below the horizon, and the night began to set in...
Restoring the Balance: The party dealt with the Cult of the Dragon and slew Venomfang, earning the admiration of Reidoth and going a long way toward restoring the balance of nature in the region of Thundertree.