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.