Following Lilith and Mal, the heroes approached a dark, boarded up farmhouse on the edge of town. Overgrown cornrows hugged the property. Maggie inspected the vine shrouded porch and found a misshaped skeleton with one claw arm. She shuddered remembering Nualia’s demonic appendage. The front door was open.
Bandaro and Ash went inside. The air was moist and moldy, like old peat moss. In the blue light of Ash’s magical blade, Bandaro noticed a recessed opening in the ceiling. Ash peered into the kitchen spotting a large compost pile with mushrooms growing on it. Several vials and potted fungi lined the shelves. As Ash moved to investigate, Bandaro said, “I just heard movement above us.” As their gaze drifted upward, they were interrupted by sounds of combat outside.
Meanwhile, the others had moved around the back of the house to look around. Maggie and Xanster found stacked cages with sleeping stirges. Albi approached a fetid pond with a buzzing swarm of gnats. He knelt by the pool to collect some of the slime-covered water just as two enormous hounds crashed through the cornstalks. The beasts were tall as a riding horse with glowing red eyes, blade-like spikes along their spines and huge scorpion tails.
The first one was on Ash before he could react. The beast’s tail lanced his side and pumped him with poison. The half-elf stood in horror completely paralyzed. The monster yelped and turned away from Xanster. Maggie’s dagger blade was buried in its matted fur.
Inside the farmhouse, Ash charged through the kitchen. A black slime fell from the ceiling and its pseudopod nearly entangled the dragonborn, but not quite. He bashed a hole in the boarded window and then vanished – only to reappear outside next to the other scorpion-dog demon. The pair exchanged slashes and bite while Albi singed the monster with firebombs.
Bandaro joined the fight on the side of the house just as Xanster recovered from the poison. The warlock growled an unholy phrase and the demon vanished with a faint pop. Xanster grinned.
Maggie moved to flank the other monster. With its attention firmly on Ash, it never saw the tiefling coming. She flung a dagger into the bulging poison sacs below its tail. They erupted in black ichor dropping the creature.
The heroes recovered for a few moments. Then Xanster flew upward to see where the demons came from. He spotted several humans and another, larger demon. It was the size of an ogre champion with massive hooked claws and a canine jaw. Its eyes flared and Xanster again found his body unresponsive. He bobbed listlessly in the air.
Bandaro invisibly moved forward but the demon saw him clearly. A spell left Bandaro befuddled. Several cultists with raven masks moved into view and cast spells. Albi was bound and struck by a spiritual weapon formed like a kris dagger. Ash dodged the attacks on him.
Behind the cultists, the high priest advanced. He wore a black raven mask and patchwork robe with feathers and held a twisted black staff. He leveled it at Xanster.
The half-elf snarled and pulled from the spell’s effect. He thrust his clenched fingers at the closing demon and banished it. Another small pop. Another grin.
The demon’s spell vanished and Bandaro flew into action. He closed on the high priest and performed a deadly yet artful display of swordsmanship. Nearly dead, the priest uttered, “My mistress foretold your coming. You are to die at my hands.” Then Bandaro ran him threw. He also recognized the priest’s voice. It was mayor Kriegler.
The graceful half-elf leapt back as black goo reached from the ground and pulled the priest into a watery paste.
Ash’s dragon breath and Albi’s bombs quickly defeated the remaining cultists.
The party explored the house and found a root cellar with shallow graves, including the recently dead body of a certain Magnimarian tax collector. His entrails were missing and his belly was stuffed with feathers. Nearby, the party found a small shrine with a black robed figure wielding a scythe. Feathers were carved into the robe. Albi said, “Looks like Charon, Horseman of Death. I’m not sure about the bird motif. Or what the link is to all the clawed demon monsters. That seems more like Lamashtu’s trappings. You know. Mother of Monsters.”
As they headed outside, firelight flickered in the distance. Then a cry of alarm followed. The heroes rushed to help and found the mayor’s manor and several buildings in the town square ablaze. The party and townsfolk created a bucket line from the river and prevented it from worsening.
By morning, a few buildings were lost but the damage was minimal. The smithy listened to the heroes’ tale and thanked them. He also told them that the town seamstress had a relationship with the mayor for the last 10 years. One of the destroyed buildings was hers and there was no sign of her body.
Weary and covered in sweat and smoke (except for Bandaro who always seemed remarkably clean), the heroes climbed on their horses and rode north. North to the Storval Stairs.