In the aftermath of the battle, Balen organized guards on the walls, while the rest of the party took a much-needed rest. The Magi of Istanul, however, did not rest. That night, seven Magi cloaked in invisibility breached the walls of the Warrior-Maiden’s citadel and made their way to the chambers where the party rested. Only mere chance caused Balen to be alert when the attack came. But he when the doors to the chamber blasted open to reveal … empty air… the cunning tactician realized something was afoot, and unleashed burning hands. Seven scorched and blackened bodies crumbled to the floor.
The canny Magi had more than assassination planned. The next morning, as the party gathered for morning prayers, the Magi’s leader Ammon was atop the highest tower of his citadel calling down to the Cynidiceans. The former subjects of Zargon were slowly awakening from their drugs and dreams, and the Magi were taking credit for their liberation! “Wake up to a dawn of freedom from Zargon, won by the wisdom of Istanul!” Enraged, Ethlyn immediately ascended to the top of the Warrior Maiden’s citadel. After sending an arrow Ammon’s way, she began sermonizing of Ianna and explaining that she and the Warrior Maidens had defeated the Zargonites, not the Magi.
The rhetorical war went on for hours and the Cynidiceans swayed back and forth between the competing factions. Hunger, as it is wont to do, won out. The Magi sent forth a scholar learned in mushroom-farming to show the newly-sober Cynidiceans how to grow and harvest food; the party had not the slightest idea how to farm mushrooms and could not parry this rhetorical punch. The crowd slipped away following the Magi.
It was clear that there was only one option to deal with this menace. If the evil Magi were going to use their knowledge to feed and govern the populace, they had to be destroyed. The party laid plans.
The next day, the 34th of Vicelen 382 by Imperial reckoning, Ammon was again sermonizing to the populace. “Awaken, people of Cynidicea! Awaken to a day of freedom and wisdom under Istanul, your liberator!” Ethlyn countered this rhetoric. “Liar! It is we and the Warrior Maidens who destroyed the Zargonites! Behold!” And as an angelic choir filled the air, the masks and weapons of the defeated Zargonites were revealed forth.
“All this proves is that you are a Zargonite!” exclaimed Ammon, but somehow Ethlyn’s amazing performance carried the day. The crowd swayed in the grip of her rhetoric. “They would enslave you as the Zargonites did! Let us finish this!” she cried. Mahmud was already charging out the door with a band of sword-wielding Maidens behind him. The crowd surged forward.
Utter pandemonium ensued. One of Ammon’s lieutenants hurled a flask that exploded in a cloud of wretched gas, leaving the crowd helpless with nausea. Spells of sleep erupted from the walls of the Magi’s citadel, sending the Warrior Maidens into deep slumber. But the party pressed on. Ethlyn, Zoya, and Celdor sniped mages from the parapets. A sinister mage with a black obsidian wand shoot bolts of crackling negative energy at Nakhita and Mahmud, but the gods protected them. Finally Rakh and Mahmud reached the walls with an assault ladder, accompanied by a conjured hero in the service of Balen. In moments they’d be in the citadel.
Then from the high tower, Ammon emerged to cast down a strange metal miniature. As the tiny figure hit the ground near the assault ladder, it expanded into… A 10 headed Hydra.
The creature was savage. Rakh was picked up by his leg and tossed like a sack of flour, falling unconscious. Balen’s spine severed under the creature’s fangs, his body going limp. Only Imran’s grace and Senef’s healing kept Mahmud alive, but somehow the paladin endured the onslaught and finished off the monstrosity with Cyclone of the Four Quarters.
The Warrior Maidens took the walls and the party raced into the citadel. All around were the screams of dead and dying mages, their robes stained with blood. Ammon was somewhere above, on the rooftop. The party sought in vain for a way up. Then another metal miniature was flung, and a Manticore soared downward on them. Celdor was caught in the open and went down in a hail of spikes. Mahmud leaped upwards and cut into the creature, and the archers peppered it with arrow. It went down.
Zoya, Senef, and Sharik had by now found a staircase in one of the citadel’s lesser towers. The party scaled upwards to confront Ammon and his lieutenants on the roof. As they completed their ascent, they saw Ammon himself, accompanied by his wand-wielding lieutenant and a dozen lesser mages. Ammon immediately went to throw another figurine, but Nakhita was faster: Hold person trapped the evil mage in place. A crossbow bolt from hidden Dornethan finished off the lieutenant. The remaining mages surrendered in despair.
After that it was just mopping up. It took several days for the party to recover from the almost 48-hours of pitched battle, time they spent fastidiously collecting loot from the shattered citadel of Istanul. The spellbooks within were a spectacular find, and Sharik began pouring over them immediately. Even more exciting, the party seized Ammon’s bag of magical metal figurines, a ring that granted the ability to see in the dark, and the strange black wand.
Meanwhile, the people of Cynidicea had decided to call an assembly to form a new government. The party learned that they had been kept in their drugged stupor by drinking water prepared by the priests of Zargon from the slime of their god himself. With the priests gone, the rituals were no longer being enforced and the stupor was fading. But the reality the Cynidiceans faced was bleak; leadership was called for.
At the assembly, the bad old ways resurfaced, as the surviving Magi and Brothers of Orn began to shout and fight with the Warrior Maidens. Ethlyn – who bore more than a passing resemblance to Queen Zenobia – seized the opportunity to have herself elected Queen by promising to destroy Zargon within one week. When a vocal opponent of her leadership was suddenly struck by the evil eye (courtesy of Sharik), no one else stood against her.
Her Majesty’s first royal act was to appoint Magdala of the Warrior Maidens as her Regent. Her Majesty’s second royal act was to gather the party to enquire as to how they might defeat Zargon in a week. After heated debate, the party decided to gather all of the oil in Cynidicea, pour it down into Zargon’s lair, and light it up.
Magdala was aghast. “You cannot! The vault is filled with the ancient treasures of our people, dating back to the Empyrean War! Great lore would be lost.” The people was filled with shame at their plan. “Of course we would never damage these…heirlooms…” Sharik explained.
Since they had a week, Mahmud, Senef, Zoya and Dornethan decided to re-group with the mercenaries on the surface and taken the bodies of Jamal and Balen back to Kirkuk to see if they might be restored to life. The trek was uneventful, and Kirkuk was little changed in the scant days they’d been away. Sadly, the restorations did not go well. Jamal’s spirit was trapped in eternal darkness. Balen’s spirit returned but it was a difficult journey; the mage was constantly muttering to himself of the terrible things he’d seen, his once-keen mind shattered with madness. The last the party saw of him he was speaking gibberish with the local beggars.
On the 5th of Genelen (“secondmonth”), the party had re-grouped in Cynidicea. Rakh, Suad, and Masamba were fit to fight again, and the time to confront Zargon was now. With great trepidation, the party advanced through the great stone doors into the slimy lair of the evil “god”. The vault concealed a winding, ooze-covered passage that descended deep into the earth. As they walked downward, they heard the vault doors slam shut behind them – the people of Cynidicea had locked them in!
There was no turning back now. The party entered Zargon’s lair, a horrible den of slime and bones made worse by the glistening gleam of ancient treasures. The monstrosity arose, 15’ of towering horror adorned with tentacles. Its slimy miasma befuddled their brains. Ethlyn began to dream of beautiful butterflies... but Rakh saw his party members turn into small Zargon-like creatures, and Dornethan thought everyone a treacherous priest. Even as the party attacked Zargon, its own members attacked the party!
Masamba was the first to go down, knocked off his feet by Zargon’s tentacles. Meanwhile Rakh leaped upon Nakhita and veritably tore her head half-way off, red blood and spinal fluid spraying everywhere. Dornethan cut open Suad, then stabbed his best friend, Celic, in the eye, watching with glee as his friend collapsed in a crimson heap.
Meanwhile Mahmud, Zoya, and Senef had barely been holding off the onslaught from Zargon. The battle was at its culminating point as the dream-maddened Ethlyn, Rakh and Dornethan rushed up on their allies…and had a sudden moment of lucidity. As one the momentarily sane party members joined their comrades in rushing Zargon and the great best went down. The cloud of madness passed. A great victory had been won!
As the party spread out to investigate the treasures, Zoya produced a great volume of oil and soon there was nothing left of the “god” but its great black horn. “We will have to destroy this as well… see, even now it begins to regenerate from this unholy tusk,” said Sharik.
The party came to the surface laden with the marvelous treasures of Zargon: A spear of purplish-black hepatizon, called Nightbringer; a magical glass prism of unknown powers; a cloak and boots, made by ancient elves; a bronze muscle cuirass and shield, dating to the Empyrean War, adorned with the Winged Sun; and most precious of all, a scroll of miracle…