The party decided it was best to pursue Iskander into the basement immediately – whatever was in the tower would still be there after they found the wizard. After some indecision about who should try to activate the teleportation pad as it may be trapped, Reynar stepped up with the hourglass and turned on the magical device, whisking the the group into the tower’s lower levels.
The first chamber was a large, rectangular room that was mostly empty other than the blood smears across the floor, the gory remnants of three cultists laying on the ground, and the vaguely humanoid shapes of two earth elementals and one fire elemental which immediately attacked the party. Before the battle could fully get into swing, Aramil asserted his will over the elementals and banished them back to their home plane, ending their threat before it even began.
What greeted the party through the door leaving the room was more than they could have expected. The hallway had a stone floor, the same as the room, but it had no walls or ceiling. Instead, beyond the path was the night sky – inky darkness, twinkling stars, and the occasional passing planet or meteor.
Down the hall were several doorways suspended in the empty space. The first one led to what appeared to once be a well-stocked wizard’s laboratory. Though largely untouched by time, it clearly had not been used for a very long time. More notable than the alchemical equipment and braziers was the whirlwind in the center of the room, eight gems afloat in its winds. Azrael used his ring of telekinesis to pull the gems from the winds which Aramil identified as elemental gems, two for each type of elemental.
The next room down the hall was a study, a circular room lined with bookshelves reach to the edge of the domed ceiling twenty feet above. The library seemed to contain a book on almost every subject imaginable, though it was all mundane knowledge with no magical books in its midst. On the desk in the middle of the room were a variety of extremely fragile loose papers and a vellum map of the Sword Coast, horribly inaccurate as it predated the joining and subsequent separation of Abeir and Toril – potentially valuable to a collector but of little other use.
The room at the end of the hallway was a simple storage closet containing supplies for cleaning, writing, and alchemical experiments. The next chamber was far more interesting. As the door was opened, the elves in the party immediately noticed the threshold was lined with salt. This was only relevant to Aramil though as he immediately knew this was some sort of a ritual circle. He prevented the party from entering the room and the reason became readily apparent as a gigantic humanoid with dark-red skin stood, greeting them all rather politely.
The creature introduced himself as Taraz, an efreet who had been bound here for centuries by Xonthal. Taraz informed the party that he was not able to grant wishes so long as he was imprisoned here but his powers would return to him once freed. The chamber was warded against him harming anyone so long as he was imprisoned here but he wasn’t particularly friendly, his imprisonment leaving his temper rather short. The party debated what to do with him for a bit before Aramil acted on his own and broke the salt circle, allowing the genie to disappear in a puff of fire and smoke with nary a word of thanks (let alone a magical wish or two).
The last room of he basement was a massive room with two giant hourglasses filled with some sort of glittering sand. To the party’s dismay, they found Iskander’s body slumped on the ground, bloodied and broken and dead. The blue dragon mask lay on the ground beside him which even a cursory magical examination revealed it to be a fake, the whole thing was a set up, though whether the party or Iskander himself was set up remained to be seen. Feeling bad for him and determined to get answers, Miyeon performed a ritual to raise Iskander from the dead while the rest of the party took a brief rest. While waiting, Stone searched the library some more and found a secret door that lead to a smaller study dedicated specifically to magical writings, finding several of the wizard’s spellbooks which Aramil eagerly took.
After his initial disorientation, Iskander realized his situation and that he had died but that the party had brought him back from the dead. Grateful the had ultimately saved his life, he was more than willing to be helpful. As far as the cult knew, he and everyone else at Xonthal’s Tower were dead, so he effectively had his wish of getting out of the cult. He informed them that the rest of the tower was mostly empty, nothing of value remaining beyond what was in the basement.
Finished exploring the tower, the party teleported away with Iskander back to Waterdeep. As soon as they arrived in the basement of The Taxidermist, the party heard the sounds of combat and slaughter outside . The clang of metal armor, blasts of magical energy, and the sound of heavy, beating wings overhead resonated through the city – Waterdeep was under attack by the Cult of the Dragon. The party rushed to where the fighting seemed thickest, passing many burned out and destroyed buildings on their way to The Council of Waterdeep’s chambers. By the time they arrived, the fighting had mostly dwindled, the combined power of the councilors present turning away the attackers, though it seemed like the attack was mostly a demonstration of power than a genuine assault.
Battered but still on his feet, Lord Dagult Neverember greeted the party and immediately set about interrogating Iskander once he learned who he was, a little more roughly than he should have at first but he was eventually calmed and Iskander spared a severe beating. The council held an immediate meeting with whoever was present, most everyone beyond the dragons, and heard the events of the expedition to the tower. Disappointed that the mask was a fake but glad to have another high-ranking prisoner from the cult, the council was mostly pleased with the end result of the excursion.
Over the next couple days, more and more of the forces of the council members came pouring into Waterdeep. Due to the party’s efforts in halting several major cult activities plus their influence over the individual members of the Council of Waterdeep, the size of the force was massive.
Remallia Haventree and Rian Nightshade were able to gather a large collection of spies from the Harpers and Zhentarim respectively, the former also providing bards to accompany units of soldiers and the latter providing assassins to carry out tactical strikes. Delaan Winterhound of the Emerald Enclave and King Melandrach rallied much of the forces of the woodlands in the north, bringing forth dozens of treants and elementals as well a druids and griffon-riding archers. Lady Laeral Silverhand and Taern “Thunderspells” Hornblade recruited several wizards from Silverymoon while also contributing ground troops to the overall might of the army. While not contributing to the major ground forces, Sir Isteval was able to get Cormyr to send several contingent of war wizards as well as Purple Dragon Knights, adding to the paladins and clerics already contributed by Ontharr Frume and the Order of the Gauntlet. The dragons were able to each recruit five others of their individual kinds, giving the army a flight of thirty metallic dragons which, while immensely powerful, is far fewer dragons than the cult has by all reports. Maccath the Crimson was able to contribute a small group of wizards from the Arcane Brotherhood and Nyh Ilmichh, along with a handful of Red Wizards, summoned several devils to aid in the coming battle. The rest of the members of the Lords’ Alliance provided the majority of the army – footsoldiers, cavalry, archers, and the supply lines necessary to maintain the forces.
When assembled, the party headed north, marching with the army to the Well of the Dragons to finally confront the cult at their home base. On the way, they were greeted by the strange but familiar sight of a flying castle headed towards them. The castle landed nearby and the party met the last piece of the forces – a squad of over 50 giants led by their old acquaintance Blagothkus.
The march north was a somber one, the tension of the coming conflict lingering heavily as the the army based burned out hovels and streams of travelers heading in the other direction to escape the devastation to the north.
With the Well of the Dragons in sight, the party was now able to see the Temple of Tiamat in its full splendor. Raised from the caldera of the now-dormant volcano, the temple was a jagged star of black rock, each of its five points as well as the center raising into massive, pointed spires. Chromatic dragons wheeled overhead, not daring to yet approach given the presence of the metallic dragons and the giant, flying castle. The draakenhorn droned incessantly as the cults forces rallied into battle formation – fire and frost giants readied massive crossbows and boulders, kobolds in the thousands formed loose packs ready to charge, defected Red Wizards summoned support troops of their own, and the massive army of mercenaries and cultists formed into proper combat units.
The War of the Dragon Queen was about to commence – would the combined forces of the north be enough to hold off the Cult of Tiamat while the party tried to stop her entrance into the material world?