For days and nights, the group of would-be heroes journeyed through the snow and ice to reach the mouth of the volcanic caves. It was a cold, quiet journey through wind-swept ice and brutal nights. The old mountain pathways were as likely to cause their death as any arrow or magic spell. Each pass only reminded them of Hrothgar’s death at the hands of the frost giants. It was a hard, long walk, and in stories of heroes, few mention the real work of the job: walking, and walking some more, and then more, straight through miserable, empty places. When the map’s path led to Dragon’s Eye, at last, the mouth of the cave was carved into the head of a dragon as an ominous and pointless gesture to instill terror. Targos spit at it. The cave is warm and empty, and that should be enough for anyone to know to leave it alone. Every bird and bat and wandering bear for miles would crowd into the warmth. and I see none, not even a bit of guano on the rocks. Hera pointed at the mud below swept away snow, where many boots and bloody feet trudged and dragged and huge claw-footed creatures stomped among the mud. No one needed to speak. They just drew their weapons and crept into the warm shadows.
Inside, of course, they found the enemies of Kuldahar. A tribe of lizard men had abducted villagers, held them as slaves and meat. Their chieftain was a large and proud creature, bellowing his threats. His death was fast, and his threats were no match for Targos’ twin axes. The villagers, liberated, were still not home. It was a long, cold walk to freedom, and the heroes could not follow them. The villagers had spoken of horrors deeper in the old ruins. Those that were not eaten were dragged away by a necromancer, sacrificed to become loyal horrors of undeath. He was an arrogant wizard, and when he was found, Baron Charles taunted him into single combat. The mighty paladin was braver than he probably should have been, to face a wizard in single combat with nothing but a sword and a hammer and the convictions of courage and faith, but the wizard was foolish and arrogant enough to allow Baron Charles to begin the fight within range of the blade. That mistake cost the wizard everything. Whatever demons he served and bargained with no doubt appreciated the work of the paladin that sent their debtor to their door.
Deeper and deeper, chasing all those who were stolen, all the signs of danger and strife, to the heart of power in Dragon’s Eye: Yxunomei. The unholy priests and priestesses, the necromancer, the lizard king, and all of the assembled yuan-ti together formed a small army for a rising evil tide. The general at the bottom of the pit was a creature of the pit, herself. The demon Yxunomei emerged from the disguise of a young girl, with many arms and many weapons and many, loyal yuan-ti warriors. Was this the end of our heroes?
No. This great battle in the depths of the cavern was swiftly fought. Targos swept through archers and Baron Charles fought the wizards. The rest of the group combined their spells and curses and holy prayers into a power great enough to banish the demoness. Before she died she revealed that she was not at war with Kuldahar. She was at war with another force that also sought to open the same portal, to control it. In this case, the enemy of our enemy was certainly not our friend. At the end of the battle, Hera was binding scratches and wounds, and reminding everyone. The demoness had underestimated us. Her adversary will know we defeated her. This adversary will not underestimate us.
The hearthstone gem is recovered, at last. The journey back to Kuldahar is long and cold, and every ravine and every shadow in the rocks could be the next trap. Still, we march on.