The short journey from Narren led through an increasingly bleak and unwholesome landscape as the marshes opened up. The road they were travelling was at least built on a causeway, so as long as they stuck to the path there wasn’t any problems. Nevertheless the atmosphere felt more and more oppressive as they approached the massive ruins of what had been called The Old Temple in the merchant’s note. Flickers of movement on the edge of vision, and strange noises in the distance kept the group on edge.
The Temple had been the site of an immense battle at some point – presumably when the Brelish army had descended on the place at the end of the Last War. The wreckage of old war machines could be seen in places, and some suspiciously large mounds covered in vegetation suggested mass graves. The massive walls of the Temple’s compound were blasted and burned in many places, and rubble from fallen crenelations littered the ground. A massive ornately carved structure could be seen beyond the walls, but entry first had to be made through the battered gateway. There was no immediate sign of any of the mercenaries, or of the merchant for that matter.
An answer to the latter’s location rapidly became apparent when a group of huge monstrous spiders ambushed the group in the confines of the gatehouse. The heavily armoured warriors were not particularly fazed by the physical assault, but the webs, both those in place and those spun and cast by their attackers, served to slow them down so that the more vulnerable members of the group were not protected. Even so, the creatures were despatched and a number of human and hobgoblin bodies were found in the lair shortly after. Unwilling to assume that this was a dead end, the group pressed on towards the main building, ignoring the tumble-down ruins of the outer walls as there were no signs of encampment. The logical inference was that any mercenaries would be occupying the now-deserted temple building.
Signs of the greater battle were evident here too. The main doors of the temple were battered and scored with the marks of weapons and spells. Whatever mechanisms had been in place to open the massive portals were smashed, but two smaller side doors in the ornate portico were still accessible so they carefully made their way inside.
Inside it was obvious that some attempt at clearing debris and damage had been made – a clear path led between rubble below defaced carvings of demonic entities. Smashed altars could be seen, and the smell of open latrines suggested the building was still in use somewhere. Before the group could explore much further though, they found the mercenaries. An extended group of hobgoblins had taken up residence. The first couple of guards were taken quickly, but then the alarm was raised and more reinforcements arrived.
Within moments the central nave of the the Temple was a complicated battlefield. Mercenary crossbow men used pillars as cover to harass the group, while others closed to engage the fighters. These first few troops were cut down in short order, but more and more appeared, backed by spell casters and two tame dire apes. Other, more specialised troops began to arrive, backed by an ogre mage and the leadership of the mercenary group.
The group was split by terrain, and fighting on several fronts. Although they outclassed most of their opponents, the sheer number of attackers was wearing them down, and the bard was gravely wounded. Before the highly experienced leader could close in on them, Bumperklart was able to use his giant’s tooth artefact to project a powerful suggestion that they call a truce and negotiate a deal.
The battle halted and both sides paused to tend to their injured before the bard was able to negotiate a new contract where the group bought out the mercenaries and hired them to accompany them. It also served to give the group some much needed information about the cultists who had hired the mercenaries.
As feared, the original cult of Elemental Evil had survived the fall of the Old Temple and had found a new home in the extinct volcano that could be seen in the distance. They had taken over old dwarven mines and begun fortifying the place, overseen by a group called the Temple of All-Consumption. The mercenaries didn’t much care about the cult’s aims or goals – it was just another job for them.
At this point the group noticed that the mercenaries were not just a fighting force, but had brought their families with them. This lead to some uncomfortable contemplation for some, and a dismissive shrug by others. Either way, there were pointed conversations as they left the Temple and made their way back to Narren and the road to the New Temple.