Portico Politics

After defeating the flesh-stripping devil, the group explores the last major gatehouse on the causeway before making the final push to the walls of the city. They discover a lot of spiders and a few tattered servants of the orc and goblin variety. One way or another everything is killed, with the exception of one huge spider that manages to wedge its bulky body out a hatch before the fireballs and missiles could claim its life. They find the flayed body of a dead dwarf and use the cleric’s powers to question the fallen soul about the general layout of the city they plan to enter, They learn the approach is guarded by an evil beast of some sort that examines all who pass. They learn additional details about the layout and population of the city and are forced to reevaluate some assumptions made at the start of the journey.
Spending a few days in preparation, protective spells including invisibility are cast on the party members. The wizards shields himself and the Vessel of Souls with an invisibility globe.The group presses on down the causeway and sees that the city is surrounded by a lake created by a huge dike that encircles the city. At the point where the dike meets the causeway there is a crumbling arch that stretches over the party’s approach. Beyond, the causeway surface dips below the surface of the water before emerging several thousand feet beyond at the entrance to a large portico.
As the party members pass through the arch, all but one experience a chilling sensation that passes swiftly once they have emerged on the other side. There, they deploy a folding boat and have the invisible, water-walking cleric tow them along the path of the causeway. As they reach the point where the road rises out of the water to meet them, the ranger and paladin leap out and approach the entrance. As the elf prepares to disembark, the group as a whole is distracted by the sight of the massive city that stretches before them.
At this instant, the black dragon that has been stalking the wake of the boat rises from the waters of the fetid lake near the edge of the causeway and spits a caustic stream of acid that nearly slays the paladin and ranger and follows up by biting the elf as its billowing wing flaps knock the mage and his charge out of the boat and into the shallow waters.
The group rallies and unleashes what response it can muster. The elf’s prismatic spray has no effect, but the cleric charges onto the lake’s surface to attack the beast while paladin and ranger ply their bows. While the mage lets fly with missiles, the elf hurls a fireball from his helm, trying to avoid having the burst engulf the charging cleric. The creature’s snaky neck twists and it strikes at the charging cleric’s leg and hamstrings him, though it is taking damage from the spells and arrows slung its way.
The cleric decides that a tactical retreat is preferable to limping around the surface of the large pond while a dragons swims about beneath him, so he limps back towards the causeway. As the mage lets fly with a storm if icy hailstones, the dragon surrounds itself with a globe of darkness.
A few seconds pass…”did we get it?”. The answer is uncertain, but a general retreat from the watery causeway seems prudent. As they ascend the ramp, the elf and mage note hidden writings inscribed into the general bedlam of symbols carved into the causeway. As they try and process the writing – the reading of which at one point causes the entire party to become cloaked in armor made of light – , keep an eye out for the dragon in the lake and a maintain a watchful gaze over the sprawling portico that lays ahead, the elf becomes aware that the group is under observation.
Perched in the stonework archway that spans the entrance to the portico is a most curious creature that combines the features of a malnourished human and a partially feathered bird. Goldpiece hails the creature…

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