While taking a minute to recover from the exertion of battle, the heroes became certain that this abandoned monastery was the the primary base of the cult and was probably being used as a meeting point or ritual location. No doubt, the cult leader and his followers were heading back to a more fortified location. They also discovered a kormin being held captive and heavily drugged in a back room. His markings showed him to be a prominent figure in one of the southern tribes, but no one present knew enough about the kormin tribes to get much beyond that. The kormin guards they had killed bore similar markings, as well as old wounds, leading the heroes to believe that this tribe had been subjugated magically and that this kormin was heavily bound because he was not breaking as easily as the others.
Taking the kormin with them on a pack mule the cultists had left behind, Uana lead them through the treacherous marsh. Farther south, they came upon the cultists’ sanctuary, a single-story stone structure in a particularly wet part of the swamp. With the sun beginning to set, cultists flooded from the entrance to defend their leader. While the cultists themselves were little threat, the heroes found themselves ambushed. A pair of skilled archers layed down a withering barrage from nearby trees and once Azeriah made his way bast a series of traps, he found his battle against the cultists turning against him as a stealthy assailant fading in and out of his vision, striking him to disastrous effect. Dinesh had used his own magic to turn invisible at the start of the fight and was making his way towards the building to investigate, but paused shortly to destroy several of Azeriah’s attackers in a burst of Kairnalla radiance before continuing on. With the heroes advancing and the cultists dead, the archers and their stealthy ally made a final attack, dropping Azeriah, and retreated through the swamp.
Cyrus did his best to get Azeriah back in fighting shape and then stayed back to look after the kormin and Uana, while the others made their way to confront the cult leader. Dinesh’s earlier scouting revealed that inside the main chamber of the building, the leader had summoned a pair of devils and was waiting confidently with some of his cultists. The ambushers had stopped by to confirm the end of their contract with him and departed.
Despite the obvious trap, Behram Gage launched an assault with Dinesh and Azeriah, leaving Cyrus to look after the kormin and Uana. Daggers and flaming javelins flew through the air, but all in vein. Each attacks was easily rebuffed by a magical barrier corresponding to a circle of blood on the floor around the cultists. A cult ritualist stodd at the back with an unfortunate minion who had been made the focus of the barrier ritual and who was suspended somewhere between life and death.
Enragingly self-assured, the cult leader asked Behram what he wanted. When Behram asked about the hit list, the leader just shrugged and said orders were orders. With neither side having much to say to the other, it became a waiting game, a game that the cult leader became frustrated with within seconds. He burst into a tirade against the heroes, who he considers to be nothing more than peasant rabble who have no right to take up his time. In response to a quip from Azeriah, he then berated the gods of Kenafiir, tipping his hand that he was from another plane. He claimed that true gods would have already struck him down for opposing a priest like Azeriah. But being false gods, Maithus and his ilk were incapable of producing miracles or angels.
In response to that, one of the cult minions inside the circle stepped out of an illusion, revealing himself to be none other than Fishbone. Stabbing the cult minion sustaining the barrier in the neck, Fishbone shocked the leader with a pointed rebuttal:
“Gods work in mysterious ways in these parts—and he’s no commoner, you dog! That’s SIR Gage, and you’ll do well to learn that!”
He then launched himself at one of the devils, striking a gruesome blow. The barrier fallen, Behram and his men rushed to join the fray. The battle was hard-fought, with the cult leader proving to be a strong swordsman and his ritualist proving to be as deadly as he was melevolant. At the start of the battle, the ritualist killed the remaining minion and channeled the experience of his death into Behram, severely injuring and stunning him. Sacrificing minions hidden elsewhere in the complex, the ritualist began to devastate the heroes. Fisbone did his best to intercede, but the ritualist also channeled the wounds he would have received into his unfortunate followers, leaving him without a scratch. With the others desperately trying to contain the leader and his devils, Dinesh went in search of the cultists, finding them and managing to kill three of them before the ritualist, seeing Dinesh’s plan, laid him low. Those three minions proved to be what was needed to tip the scale, however. The devils were destroyed and Fishbone used his powerful magic to momentarily take control of the cult leader, forcing him to throw himself into the acidic pools of the swamp.
Azeriah discovered one cultist remaining. His friends having just died in horrible, spontaneous ways all around him, the man was terrified. Azeriah did his best to calm the man down, telling him that he was protected and that nothing bad would happen. At that point, the ritualist made his daring escape, jumping from the window down into the acidic marshes. The legs of the cultists with Azeriah snapped with a sickening sound and then the man began screaming as the acid burns that the ritualist would have been suffering ate away at the minion. By the time Fishbone arrived to investigate the screaming, Azeriah was left holding the somewhat melted, legless remains of the man.
The cult leader was likely suffering a similar fate, but none of the heroes were equipped or skilled enough to rescue their source of information from the burning depths. Fortunately, Cyrus had coaxed the kormin back to health and the man was willing to show off the true power of kormin strength and resilience by diving into the burning waters and retrieving the heavily armored leader from the depths. If Cyrus can keep him alive long enough to answer some questions, this may all have been worth it.
Chanelling the negative effects of jumping three stories into a swamp of acid into a helpful cultist used up the last of the ritualist’s minions. As he ran into the mists, Behram managed to clip him with a Soulfire Javelin. The wound wasn’t more than a scratch, but actually drawing blood from the man obviously provoked his ire.
Fishbone, in response to the cult leader knocking Azeriah unconscious:
“The mob explodes in confusion, and the stalwart Behram Gage remains as a rock! But…. a bystander has fallen! Will our hero make it in time?”