Monthly Archives September 2017

Why is not one ever happy to see us?

After a restful night’s sleep, we emerged fully prepared (so we thought) for our anticipated initiation into the Order of Feathergale Spire.  Once accepted by Thurl, we would hopefully be able to use his antagonism towards the earth and water cults to attack them with his blessing and using his resources, while evaluating his strengths in order to take him down in his turn.

We arrived at the pinnacle where the initiation, appropriately, was to take place (we have been curious yesterday to find a lack of a chapel or temple in the spire before realising that for an air cult, the top of the pinnacle was obviously where your temple would be).  Thurl was up there, with four of his knights, plus a priest of some kind that we had not seen before.  They were gathered by the edge of the spire.  We approached, thinking that the facade of a nobleman’s club would mean that the initiation ceremony would not involve any deep binding to some kind of evil spirit or the like.  Thurl welcomed us, but his speech of praise for the spirit of the air became more and more manic before he announced that no good initiation could take place without sacrifices.  There was an evil glint in his eye by this stage, and three of the strange emaciated men led some captives up onto the spire.  With horror, we recognised the shepherd who had led us to the graves, and our two hirelings, Therel and Theodorm.  Thurl announced with glee that in order by prove our worth to Yan-C-Bin, we must hurl these captives off the side of the tower as a sacrifice…

We hastily conferred by significant glances.  While we had all been prepared to cross our fingers behind our backs and swear false allegiance to the cult to infiltrate it, we all drew the line at sacrificing innocents to that end, especially those who had helped us and were friends of ours.  So, making a show of herding them to the edge of the drop, we subtly reassured them that they should trust us.  Sorrell then approached Thurl and started on some cock and bull story about how each of them should be given a chance of survival each – a feather from his cloak, ya-de-ya.  Whatever rubbish he was spouting, it convinced Thurl by some utter miracle, and he started to pluck some feathers from his cloak.  Sorrell used the opportunity to cast Thunderwave, as both Thurl and the priest were standing with the backs to the edge and right by the parapet.  Unfortunately the spell was unable to knock them from their feet, but the three emaciated ones were killed by it.  I quickly stabbed the knight standing next to me, and ran for the central stair.  Feyabelle, backed up and shot the other knight.  Arielle cast silence on the priest to stop him casting any spells, while Thorg charged at Thurl, but again he was able to keep his footing.  This was unfortunate, as he slashed at Sorrell with his sword, greviously wounding her.  Fortunately neither of the knights standing by her were able to hit her before she turned into a lion and pounced on the priest, knocking him off the parapet.  The two knights on the other side attacked Arielle, but did not hurt her badly.  I now fired my crossbow at one knight, and Feyabelle hit him with another arrow.  Thorg charged again at Thurl, and this time pitched him over the edge.  Looking over, he saw the priest floating slowly down the side of the tower to the ground, while Thurl had caught the tower about half way down and was climbing back up again.

Without Thurl and the priest though, the fight at the top was brief.  A single mightly blow from Thorg’s maul smashed the head of one knight from his shoulders, and the others were also soon dispatched by the rest of us.  Thurl had now disappeared, we assumed into the tower, so Erky scattered some ball-bearings down the steps, which Feyabelle followed with one of the bodies of the emaciated ones.  We could now hear Thurl charging up, so Erky cast fog cloud into the stairwell, to make the obstacles less apparent.  An incantation from below blasted to fog out of the stair case though, and Thurl emerged, shouting encouragement to his knights.  His face fell as he saw their corpses on the sward, and then Sorrell charged into him, knocking him back down the stairs.  He was now prone, halfway down the stairs, being mauled by a raging lion.  I lobbed the occasional magic missile at him (since those were guaranteed not to hit Sorrell) as Sorrell gradually gnawed his head off.  The rest released the captives.  Thurl was soon dead, at about which point Savra and the last knight appeared up the stairs.  Thurl’s headless body rapidly sapped their morale and they surrendered on the spot.  We accepted the surrender and disarmed them.  Thorg used the opportunity to grab Thurl’s greatsword, which shone with blue light when wielded – as sure a sign as any of magical enchantment.  What with his own greataxe, Jollivar’s maul and now Thurl’s greatsword, Thorg is now looking like a great-weapon salesman.  It’s amazing he is actually capable of standing upright…

Next steps, in case I forget in the dizzying excitement of being on top of the world:

There are a bunch of those emaciated guys in the basement that we could do with killing.  I’m not normally a fan of genocide, but they seem to be heavy duty cultists or something, so probably not best to allow them to pinky swear that they will be nice people from now on.

We should search through Thurl’s office now that we have a better opportunity and are not relying on a rat to work out which documents are important.

Return to Red Larch to touch base with the Harpers (and possibly some of the other factions as well).  I think I have some books somewhere that I should be returning (it’s like the library).  Maybe if we use the cloaks and Savra helps us, we can use the hippogriffs?

Which brings us onto the topic of Savra and the other knight that surrendered.  Need to work out if they are heavy duty evil dudes or just misguided like Therel.  If the former, who can we turn them over to?

Where is the River Maid?  Do we need it again?  If we can find it, and bag some hippogriffs, maybe we could build some sort of stable and flying off platform on it?  We could call it a hippogriff carrier…

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And with its head, we went galumphing back…

Still bubbling with enthusiasm, we are shown down to the hippogriff stables, and given cloaks that help them accept us as members of the Order.  Up close, the hippogriffs are even more intimidating than they are from a distance, but I boldly climb up behind Arielle and strap myself in.  Emergency exits are available on pretty much all sides, and I regret not having learned Feather Fall for my spell book.  If I survive this, I will make it a priority next time.  We have a quick conflab on tactics.  There will be four knights of the order also taking part in the hunt, mounted on giant vultures.  There is a low mist over the canyon where the manticore has been spotted, so finding it will be the first order of business.  We decide that splitting into two groups of two will enable us to double our chances of finding it, while also giving us enough staying power to fight it if we do while the other pair come to our aid.  And also allow for two pairs of eyes in case this is an elaborate plot to kill us in an unfamiliar environment.  We also have a secret weapon in the form of Blinky, who is another pair of eyes, and whose eyes are exceptionally good in the moonlight.  Manticores are just slightly larger than the prey she would normally go after…

We leap to the air with just a few tactical reminders, mainly to Sorrel to point out that raging or turning into a bear might both be inappropriate things to do when mounted on a hippogriff.  The mist is thicker than we expected and we agree with the four knights, who are hunting as a wing of four rather than two pairs, that we will holler if we see the manticore.  They, being properly equipped for these things, have a hunting horn.  We set off in divers directions, and it is Sorrell and Feyabelle who first encounter the manticore.  It is swiftly aware of them when an arrow from Feyabelle hits it squarely in the rump, and turns and flings a shower of tail spikes in her direction, hitting her mount.  Arielle and I sweep in, with Thorg as a wingman, and I surprise it with a quarrel from my crossbow while Feyabelle keeps up volley after volley of arrows.  A final set of magic missiles from my wand finishes it off before the vulture squadron even arrives – they appear to find us already sawing its head off.  We return to acclamation and astonishment at our martial prowess.  The promised ring is given and bestowed on Feyabelle for her devastating archery.  Thurl Mirroska is so impressed by our prowess indeed that he offers to make us initiates of the society the very next morning.  Our prestige is high, and we are offered a fine room on the top floor of the tower to bunk down in.  We politely accept the offer, hoping that it does not involve binding ourselves inevitably to some evil cult, but is more the aerial hunting society of the nobility that it pretends to be.

The room is indeed well equipped, but I do not feel sleepy, and am still anxious to penetrate the mystery of these well-seeming idiots.  There must be more to them than the chinless wonders that they appear to be.  I decide to go a-sneaking around the tower after lights out.  Arielle offers me the protection of her veil of shadows, although that will mean her accompanying me.  Sorrel also offers to come, in the form of a rat, to sneak into small gaps and the like.  So in the end, my solo wander becomes a charabanc of characters.  Still we are largely successful, mainly because the knights seem to have little concept of security.

The top of the tower is completely unguarded, as if they had no concern over arial attack.  We find the telescope we saw earlier, but it seems a normal gnomish artefact, with no magical enhancement above that normally found in such a device.  Descending the tower, we find that on the floor with the great hall, there are 4 chambers.  Sorrell examines each in rat form, and while unable to tell us in detail exactly what is there, we establish that two are empty and two hold two knights each.

The floor below has the kitchens and conservatory, now deserted, and a bunk room full of the strangely emaciated men that we have seen before in the kitchen and attacking us when riding vultures.  No clue as to their role and nature.  Their presence in the kitchen makes then seem like slaves or servants, but their role attacking us implies that they are warriors as well.

Returning to our floor, there are four large chambers, each a quadrant of the tower.  One we inhabit.  The rest are scouted by Sorrell as a rat.  One contains Savra Belabranta, which confirms to us that she seems to be some sort of second in command.  One contains two knights, and we surmise that two of the knights downstairs have been bumped from our room by us.  The last is the room of Thurl.  Sorrell finds a desk with papers, and we ask her to go and bring some out, provided that she can return them to roughly their original places.

The letters are most interesting.  They reveal something of Thurl’s motivations and explain something of his position, but also worry us somewhat.  There is one talking about Aerisi in most disparaging terms – he regards her as a spoiled brat prone to temper tantrums who just happens to have been favoured with finding an elemental weapon called Windvane, and who is dedicated to raising a demi-god of elemental air called Yan-C-Bin – the Prince of Evil Air. It also mentions Windharrow – he leads some minstrel band and is usually to be found toadying to Aerisi.  There is another one talking about Larrakh, the priest we killed in the tunnels under Red Larch.  It seems that he had fallen out with Aerisi for some failing, and was trying to get back into her good books with a display of over-zealous behaviour in taking over Red Larch.  We are described as his likely killers.  And a final letter comes from Aerisi herself, also describing us, and wanting more information about us.  So it seems likely that Thurl does know who we are, and is probably just toying with us, but also that he may not be entirely displeased with us having killed Larrakh, and possibly will be trying to us us against the earth cult, and maybe even Aerisi herself.  So he may not be entirely deceitful in offering to make us initiates, as I suspect he sees himself as potentially Aerisi’s equal or even superior.

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Rapid promotions for those who don’t lose their heads

As the adrenaline surge started to pass, we surveyed the wreckage of the room and started to feel the cuts and bruises that we had all received at the hands of Jollivar and his lieutenant.  The decision was rapidly taken that we should probably have a bit of a rest before continuing on our quest, so we barricaded the various doors.  In the process I saw that the desk by the fire had a number of papers on it, so I started to peruse them while resting my newly healed wounds.  The documents were not exactly exciting, but did contain an amount of correspondence that revealed that there were obviously four elemental cults here in the Sumber Hills, one for each element.  Feathergale Spire held the air cult, as we had already suspected, led by Thurl Merroska, a person who Thorg had already indicated he was interested in.  There were also letters to the leaders of the earth and fire cults, revealing the names of their leaders (Hellenrae and Elizar Dryflagon), but unfortunately not their locations.  In addition there was some information about the leader of the water cult.  It seems that Jollivar was merely a middle-ranking flunky, and the true leader was a strange character that he had never even met, but who apparently was covered in barnacles and had a great claw in place of his left arm.  He had come to the Sumber Hills seeking a spirit of elemental water (strangely for somewhere so far inland) and had found a magical trident called Drown. His plan – to summon Olhydra, Princess of Elemental Water.  Another letter revealed that Jollivar had given members of the earth cult passage across the Dessarin River with their captives from the embassy mission, and that they had then been attacked by members of the air cult in the Sumber Hills.  This explained the bodies we had found in the graves (one earth cultist and one air cultist, plus two others), and also that the captives must still be in the custody of the earth cult, not here in Riverguard Keep.

As I was perusing this information, a door in the corner of the room under the balcony which we had not yet investigated opened, and a woman came in, dressed as a servant.  She seemed confused by our presence in the room, and nervously asked where Jollivar was.  When we admitted that we had killed him, and his lieutenant, she broke into a broad smile, and greeted us as her heroes.  Anya, for that was her name, revealed that there were a number of servants here, kept as virtual slaves – indeed when some had tried to escape a few weeks ago, Jollivar had beaten them to death when they had been captured.  She also revealed that there were three men here from Womford, who had tried to join up as bandits but had been rejected and forced to serve in the kitchens instead.  She said that they were still loyal to Jollivar however, so might take his death badly, and would be unlikely to come with us.  We decided that Thorg and Storm (in bear form) would possibly be the best people to persuade them that a loyalty to Jollivar was not a good long term proposition, and that they should come with us, as we suspected that these were the three villagers from Womford who had left to join the bandits and that this early intervention might be enough to turn them back into a better path.  While they did this, I continued to flirt outrageously with Anya.

We rapidly gathered our group of those who wished to be rescued, and the three surly men from Womford, who accompanied us ungraciously, but were obviously intimidated by Thorg and Storm.  We now needed to leave, since the captives we were trying to release were obviously not here.  The obstacle to leaving by boat was the chain across the dock, so we decided that we needed to lower that, which appeared to be controlled from the final tower we had not investigated.  We decided that maybe now that we had killed Jollivar, intimidation might be the way to go.

Dispatching Arielle to take the rescuees to the boat and warn them to get under way, we crossed unobserved to the final tower.  We cautiously opened the door, and saw three sleeping figures in this half of the tower, the other half being obscured by a curtain.  In the corner was a capstan, that obviously raised and lowered the chain.  One started to rouse from his slumber, but I rapidly cast a sleeping spell and he quietened down.  Now I started to wind out the capstan while the others investigated behind the curtain.  There they found a cot with the sleeping form of the lank-haired man who had first let us in.  He roused as they entered, because of the noise from the capstan, and was rewarded by a swift blow to the head from Thorg’s newly acquired maul.  This shocked him rapidly into wakefulness, and he demanded to know who we were.  His imperious manner quickly subsided however when he was shown Jollivar’s severed head.  He rapidly agreed that it was probably best for him to let us leave and accept his rapid promotion in the ranks of the water cult (of which we surmised he was part because of the pool of water around his cot).  He agreed and called out through the window of the tower to tell the guards that the River Maid was leaving on a special night mission.  Happy that he would not prevent our egress, we left him with Jollivar’s head as a keepsafe and leapt aboard the boat as it coasted out of the dock.

The journey back to Womford was swift with the river current and uneventful.  Our welcome was gratifyingly warm, and we toasted once again as the heroes that we so obviously are.  A warm welcome was enjoyed by all throughout the night.

The next morning, Thorg was adamant that we should go and investigate Feathergale Spire, so we set off in that direction with an itinerant merchant who was heading up the Cairn Road in that direction.  We left the River Maid in the care of Thedorm and Therek, paying them a week’s salary in advance to look after it and keep it ready against our return.

The journey to Feathergale Spire was uneventful, although filled with the usual local talk of strange weather and ill omens in the Sumber Hills.  I revealed to the merchant that we were heading to Feathergale Spire to investigate these strange happenings, and he seemed please by this.  After we had left him and struck out for the spire itself, we encountered three strange flying bird-men, who landed near us and approached us with no obvious signs of ill-will.  Given their non-hostile stance, I advanced and parleyed with them.  They revealed that they were Aaracockra, and that they were keeping an eye on Feathergale Spire because of its association with an evil air-cult.  They asked us to infiltrate it on their behalf, and find out what they were up to.  They were unable to do so, as their were obviously Aaracockra, but felt we would be able to.  They promised us aid if we got into trouble – mentioning that the inhabitants of the spire were in the habit of throwing people off the top of the spire to execute them, and that they would catch us if that happened.  Buoyed by this assessment of the likely outcome of our attempt at infiltration, we agreed to cooperate with them.

It was almost dusk by the time we reached the Spire, which was impressive indeed.  It was situated on a crag above a ravine, with the only access via a drawbridge across the ravine itself.  The drawbridge was raised when we arrived, but a bell hung from a post by the side of the trail, so we rang it.  A window opened on the far side and a female head popped out, asking us our business.  I explained that we were poor sell-swords, down on our luck, and looking for hire.  She seemed to accept this and lowered the drawbridge to let us in.  She met us at the door and introduced herself as Savra Belabranta, greeting us warmly and offering to take us to Thurl, the master of Feathergale Spire.  I greeted her equally warmly, and accepted her kind offer.  She led us to the centre of the spire where a spiral stair led both up and down.  We ascended to the very top of the spire, where there was a lawn laid out on the flat peak, with four spires at the edges and a tall spire in the centre.  Jollivar’s notes had revealed that he though that Thurl was a pompous idiot, and that assessment seemed apt.  He greeted us warmly, and told us much of the Feathergale Society as a group of nobles from Waterdeep who had decided to revive the ancient and noble practice of airborne hunting.  I laid the flattery on with a spade, grovelling in my praise of his hospitality and of the wonders of what he had achieved.  He appeared to lap it all up – either he is a dupe in the hands of others, or is an incredibly good actor, for he never slipped from his role of an idiot fop from Waterdeep looking for thrills.  There was certainly no hint of fanaticism.  He invited us to a feast that very night, for they were celebrating the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Feathergale Society (although the exact founding date was slightly contentious, so they could legitimately have celebrated this feast on any night in the preceding week or so).

Prior to the feast, Savra showed us the hippogriff stables at the base of the tower, although we did not linger there for apparently they were trained to attack all those not accoutred as members of the society.  We briefly glimpsed the kitchens on the ground floor as well, spotting four very emaciated figures sniffing at the steam from a bubbling cauldron.  The sight piqued our interest, although we quickly hustled on.  It was only later that I remembered the three members of the society who had ambushed us a couple of days ago, and how two of them had also been freakishly emaciated, while the leader had been a well-fed nobleman.  What strangeness indeed was going on here?  We were then shown into the great hall, where the banquet was just about to start.

The walls of the great hall were covered in trophies, mainly of flying creatures.  Pride of place was given to the head of a wyvern, which we were told had been killed by Thurl himself.  Obviously if this was true, under his foppish exterior he was hiding a dangerous warrior – we must not allow ourselves to be taken in my his mask and underestimate him.  The feast started and we were given positions of honour as guests, and asked to tell of our deeds.  I avoided all mention of Riverguard Keep or of the tunnels under Red Larch (although I would not wonder that he would already know of events there and might even have worked out that we were involved).  Instead I regaled them with the tale of the strange and depraved necromancer that we had defeated with his habit of dressing zombies in women’s clothes – suggesting coyly what that might say about his sexual proclivities.  The tale was greeted with much mirth and our health was being toasted, when a servant rushed in with the news that a manticore was on the move.  This was obviously a creature that was being kept under observation, as all the knights in the hall leapt to their feet and cried that it must be hunted.  Thurl also leapt up, and declared that it would be so, offering his ring to the person who would kill the manticore.  He turned and invited us to join the hunt, offering us aerial mounts if we accepted.  Caught in the excitement of the moment, we readily agreed, since manticores are dangerous and evil beasts, and killing one would be a boon to the area, even if we were doing it in the company of those who we suspected to be evil themselves.  We had best watch our backs though, in case Thurl has worked out that we were those who killed the air cultists in Red Larch and is using this hunt as a cover to hunt us.

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