Battle Elemental Cultists
Your soldiers go into battle against the Elemental Cults.
There is a nondescript building, close to the Trade of Blades down on Deekin Street in the Protector’s Enclave district of Neverwinter, whose interior is quite the opposite of its unassuming façade. Now, this double identity, this aspect of dreary innocence draped over a sultry, impassioned truth, is quite common ‘down on Deekin’. The avenue, its side roads and alleys are home to Neverwinter’s red-light district, and all manner of entertainments at once frowned upon and discreetly patronized by the city’s elite are found there…with some a little harder to find than others.
This particular four-story structure is known to the wealthy and the well-connected as a place where appetites of a thousand kinds can be sated by a service staff renowned for the depth of their discretion, the height of their social skills, and the multiplicity of their beauty. It has no formal name and is marked by no sign; only those with the proper connections can find it, and its entrance, irregularly but quite often, and quite magically, moves from one alley to another. Regulars who have come to be trusted, as well as the magnificently-compensated staff, call the place ‘Sune’s Treasure’, or simply, ‘The Treasure’.
The room on the third floor had been reserved two weeks in advance, as had the services of one particular young woman. The price, prepaid, of course, had been steep: powerful magic items to support the staff’s efforts, hundreds of silver pieces for mundane upkeep, and two thousand precious, precious astral diamonds to guarantee the rarest of experiences. This room is large, six spans to a side, with no windows and one narrow door, and by both physical design and magical art, no sound from within could be heard without. The place can be decorated to suit the client’s taste, and, in this instance, it is dressed in the draped silks and huge pillows of the Unapproachable East, in colors reminiscent of fire and smoke. Lighting, magical of course, is quite muted save for the spotlight over the huge bed in the corner opposite the door.
At this moment there are two persons in the room: A tall, gaunt bald human male of late middle age, naked from the waist up, kilted in rough-knit grey shot with diamond-shaped red patches below, barefoot, stands within an arm’s length of the door. A wisp of a girl, a half-elf of not quite twenty summers, clad immodestly in only her flame-colored hair, sprawls face-down on the luxurious silk sheets that cover the immense bed. Neither moves, although an observer, had one been present, might conclude that the man’s immobility is a matter of self-restraint, while the woman’s is most likely a function of the lotus-tea whose aroma hangs on her like a dreamy perfume.
After a moment the man speaks, whispers really, as if afraid, even in the confines of this very secure place, that his words will be overheard. “Oh, my love, my sweet angel…how I envy you. So lovely a soul, so very expensive, so powerful, this virgin sacrifice…what agonizing ecstasies await you, burning, forever burning in the arms of Imix.” He moves, glides forward in small steps, not wanting to rush the magnificence of what he is about to do. As he moves diagonally across the room, the door opens behind him, soundlessly but with a bit of a cool draft that the kilted man could not help but feel. He does not turn, or flinch, or react in any way: This is all part of the plan.
Another human man enters the room, shorter but much more solidly build than the first. He is robed and hooded in the manner of a poor monk, a common enough look among the refugees, immigrants, and pilgrims that, every day of the week, crowd through the gates of Neverwinter. He carries a set of small clay pots with looped rope handles, three draped over his muscular left arm and one more in his right hand. He secures the door behind him and moves along the wall to the left of the kilted man. With a cautious, deliberate touch he places first one, then another pot very, very gently on the floor. Reversing his course he removes the lids from those two pots, again ever so carefully. A moment later a second smell, sweet and oily with a musky undertone, rises to compete with the flowery notes of lotus-tea. No witness is present who might be able to place this new smell, and had one been present, that witness might well have run for the door and not slowed down until they were well clear of the building: Four small pots of dragonfire tar in this room, introduced to even a small flame, would blow the top corner quarter off of this building and immolate the rest of the place in a matter of seconds.
As the robed man passes by the closed door and repeats his actions along the other wall, the kilted man speaks softly. “Syram, my friend, I am ready for the ritual.” He drifts to the edge of the bed, his face lit as much by intensity, his unblinking bulging eyes and his crooked grin, as by the unforgiving sunlike glare that lights the bed. He reaches out tenderly but with supreme confidence and lightly touches the underside of the redheaded woman’s right foot. In his mind, he could see the thing to its completion as if it had already happened: the question-and-answer prayers, the setting of the fuses, the flight, the utter magnificence of the explosion and cleansing fire, and then…oh, the glory…and then the power of Imix, greatest spawn of the Elemental Eye, the living flame that brings death to the unbeliever, flooding his body, powering his soul and his magic, his master’s generosity so exquisitely proportional to the glory of the sacrifice. He strokes the sole of the unconscious woman’s foot once more, as if assuring himself of her presence and her perfection...
…and the entire tableau, the whole play, act, and scene, falls apart.
The ‘unconscious’ girl jerks away from the kilted man’s touch and shrieks with laughter. Her face goes bright red as she rolls up into the pile of pillows at the head of the bed, and she grins broadly. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” The girl sighs heavily, trying to control herself, and she affects an injured air. “My feet are ticklish, you lout, you! I didn't think you'd touch me!”
The kilted man jerks back sputtering, unable to give words for a moment to the fountain of rage that builds inside of him. “Sy-“ is all he can manage, the first fraction of his companion’s name, as the young woman’s laughter and words and righteous power amplifies and lights up the room and explodes away from her as a corona of radiant energy. The globular wave slams the kilted man back against the far wall just to the left side of the door; he staggers and does not quite fall flat as he tries mightily to gather himself for a response. “Syram! GET HER!” He points with his right hand as his left scrabbles for the hammered bronze focus tucked inside his broad belt.
The other man moves with a fluid grace not suggested by his bulk or his voluminous robes. A double-edged dagger, easily a foot of blade skillfully fashioned to resemble nothing so much as a razor-sharp icicle, appears in his hand nigh-instantly. He spins with a disconcerting balance of brute force and delicate precision and drives the pommel of his dagger into the point of the kilted man’s jaw just below the teeth. That jaw breaks in three places, just as the attacker’s long experience with such things told him it would: once neatly in an up-and-down fracture at the site of impact, and once messily, with many grinding edges and sharp, shattered fragments, at both points where the jaw moves against the bones of the skull.
The kilted man screams, and then screams again, choking at the unholy, otherworldly pain associated with screaming through a jaw so horribly shattered. Unconsciousness a moment later is the last blessing he will ever know. He slumps to the lushly carpeted floor.
The muscular human male who is quite obviously not the “Syram” expected by the badly beaten man in the kilt sheathes his dagger smoothly, without needing to look or feel for its home. He kneels to check for signs of life in the fallen elemental cultist, and a light, smiling voice comes up behind him. “Oh, Anton my sweet, this was one for the record books, no? As always, you are my protector, my love, my hero.” She puts her left hand on his shoulder and squeezes.
He, Anton, lately disguised as one Syram, lowly servant of a powerful cultist of Imix, Elemental Lord of Flame, stands slowly. He glances back at the girl with a growing smile; she is clad in a sheet from the bed but certainly not in any way that suggests even the slightest attempt at modesty. His thick arm goes around her slight shoulders even has his mindful stare returns to the unmoving, barely breathing heap of ruin at his feet. “A long and bloody day, my lady Ereal, stepping into this mess and stopping it, but very much worth the effort, praise the Lady Firehair.”
“Yes, praise Her beauty.” Ereal slips her left arm around her guardian’s waist. There is a knock at the door, and again, no one present in a position to react is surprised. This is all part of the plan. Anton leans over the cultist’s prone body and opens the door.
Four forms, men-at-arms of the Deacons of Deekin Street, the priests and priestesses of Sune devoted to protecting Neverwinter’s “entertainers” from threats both internal and external, hustle into the room. They give the salute of their group, a quick right hand to the heart, answered by Ereal’s hand to Anton’s chest, and go about the tasks assigned to them hours earlier in the day when this little ambush was planned out. Two gather up the unconscious kilted man and two gather up the pots of dragonfire tar placed with such care just moments before by Anton, hero of the Deacons, disguised as one Syram, formerly a fire-cultist thug but now quite cold and stiff and utterly irrelevant to this world. The unnamed, kilted cult priest would live for the moment, live as long as the Neverwinter Guard might feel that his assistance with their inquiries is valuable. The four men-at-arms exit as quickly as they entered and close the door as they go, leaving Anton and Ereal still entwined.
She turns in his embrace and places her chin against his chest. “We’re off-duty until tomorrow morning, you know.” The sheet slides off of her with a silken whisper.
“Yes, my love…” Anton reaches down and effortlessly lifts her, lifts her mouth to his. “…and, praise be to the Lady Firehair, that dog paid for this very nice room until then.”