Feeling under attack

Having spent the night at Summit Hall, we departed on wing early in the morning, taking a packed breakfast with us.  After a couple of hours of flight, but too soon to have reached Dellmon Ranch by my reckoning, we saw a column of smoke rising from behind the next ridge.  Cautiously, I sent Blinky forward to have a look.  He returned and said that a farmstead was on fire up ahead, but with no signs of any raiders.  We moved up and landed a distance away as the hippogriffs were somewhat spooked by the flames.  Thorg barged through the open door of the burning stead itself, and found an unconscious half-elf with a head wound.  He carried him out, and as he did so, the half-elf stirred and muttered something about his wife.  Thorg did a rapid search of the blazing stead and the outbuildings and I sent Blinky to check the nearby area, but we found no other people of any race.  By now the victim had recovered somewhat, and told us that his name was Selwyn and that orcs had attacked the stead and seized his wife and two farmhands.  Blinky confirmed that there were obvious tracks of a wagon of some sort leading away to the north-east – in the direction of Dellmon Ranch.  Feyabelle rapidly set to following the tracks on foot, while we took to our steeds again and proceeded on wing, but flying low and well behind Feyabelle.  I sent Blinky out to scout well ahead, with orders to return if he saw anything.  He soon returned and reported that there was a wagon up ahead by a stand of trees, with two humans slumped against it and four orcs resting nearby.  I used a messaging incantation to relay this information to Feyabelle, and she snuck into a firing position over looking them.  We coordinated our attack so that as she let loose with her first volley, we swooped in and attacked at the same time.  The firefight was brief – Feyabelle’s arrows and my firebolts rapidly finishing them off.  We landed and released the captives, and then proceeded towards Dellmon Ranch at Selwyn’s request, as that was where all the local population were gathering having heard news that orcs were raiding nearby.  Thorg bared his shoulders and pulled the wagon alone the last couple of miles to Dellmon Ranch, making it look like he was just carrying a picnic basket.

Arriving at Dellmon, we saw much hustle and bustle as they prepared for the expected attack.  They had built earthen ramparts to connect the three buildings, and archery platforms on the roofs of the buildings.  Here we also found Ermon from Summit Hall, organising the defenders, who welcomed our arrival and asked us to help directing the defense.  Feyabelle confirmed that she could smell that there were many orcs nearby to the north-east, and closing rapidly, so we quickly prepared to be attacked.  I ascended to the firing platform on the main house, with four scouts armed with long-bows.  Feyabelle took the firing platform on the barn, with three commoners armed with shortbows.  Three more commoners with shortbows took the firing platform on top of the forge.  In the centre, Thorg and Ermon took the northern rampart, supported by Sorrel and [someone] (a fellow druidess), Arielle, and six commoners armed with spears, who made up in courage for what they lacked in skill.  The western rampart was taken by [Father] with four of his hearthguard, while the southern rampart was taken by [son] with the remaining three hearthguard.

The orc attack when it came was sudden and fast, but small.  There were only twenty of them, in four groups of five, and they attacked from all four directions at the same time.  We concentrated our fire from the roofs on the western and southern groups, and felled almost all of them.  Sorrel, Thorg and Ermon killed a few of the northern and eastern groups, and we wounded more as they withdrew.  They never closed to hand to hand combat, but rather just threw a single volley of javelins at us.  Several of us were wounded, but none severely or killed.  In contrast, fully eleven of the twenty lay dead when they pulled back, and they others had many wounds.  But they pulled back rather than fled – Feyabelle confirmed that there were many more, and we saw two much larger orcs on the ridge observing the attack – it was obvious that they were just probing our defenses and seeing how strong or weak we were, or whether we had any weak points.  I am sure that we have not seen the last of them by any means, but at the moment we are catching our breath and binding our wounds.

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All aboard

We descended through the tower, heading for Thurl’s apartment in order to rifle through his possessions with more thoroughness.  We were disappointed, and to an extent bemused, to find that Sorrel the rat had indeed successfully extracted all the interesting items from his correspondence.  There was an amount of treasure there that we thoughtfully pocketed, but no additional magical items beyond his greatsword (already pocketed, if that is the word, by Thorg).

Continuing down the tower, we headed for the bunkroom where we had espied the emaciated men who we had now been informed were members of the Howling Hatred.  It was unaccountably empty, although possibly we should have expected that at mid-morning.  Refusing to be derailed from our purpose, we tried the kitchen and found five them sampling the steam once again.  We called upon them to surrender, but they eschewed our offer and hurled themselves upon us with, well, howling hatred.  I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised by that.  We made pretty short work of them, but as we were checking the area for more loot, a previously unnoticed door from the solarium was opened.  A figure appeared, and the next thing I knew I was bowled from my feet and severely injured by a wall of sound and fury.  Fortunately, some of the others were more fortunate, being protected from the brunt of the blast by kitchenware and were able to keep their feet.  Thorg leapt forward with his battlecry of ‘I am Thorg’ and with the aid of Arielle and Feyabelle, was able to rapidly dispatch the sorcerer.

A check of the rest of the level showed that we were now alone, so we continued down into the stables.  Here we were able once again to persuade the hippogriffs to accept up by donning the black-feathered cloaks.  Theodorm and Therel looked askance at the mounts, and offered to return on foot to Womford and keep the River Maid once again safe for us against any future need of it we might have.  We therefore paid them a handsome bonus for their trouble in having been kidnapped, and some weeks salary in advance, and then saddled up with our two captives and the rescued shepherd and returned to Red Larch.

We landed in Red Larch to some consternation and also considerable excitement.  Enderath pointed out to me that wearing air cultist cloaks and riding air cultist mounts might in some way lead people to jump to the conclusion that we were air cultists, and suggested that we should exercise some level of discretion in the future.  I agreed that it was a point that we should take under consideration.  Enderath was pleased with the recovery of the books from the River Maid, and paid me a good sum for them.  Indeed I now have so much gold that I can scarce spend it in a village like Red Larch, although the hippogriffs are costing a goodly sum to feed each day, a sum which I am only able to partially offset by the charging of a few coppers for locals and travellers to see them.  It is tempting, having made my fortune, to return to Waterdeep, but I suspect my patrons in the Harpers might view such a return askance and make life harder for me than I would like.  Also, it would please Feyabelle immensely I think to see me departed, and it pleases me most to not please Feyabelle.  Therefore I have made a further study of the arcane books that I have found and have decided that I shall follow the inclination of my race and delve into the magics of Illusion, as they come most easily to me, and I have no desire to make things unnecessarily hard for myself.

Speaking of my companions, and unnecessary hardship, it seems that they have their own agents in the town, for they have returned with tales of woe and inequity that must be remedied.  Arielle has found the location of the Sacred Stone monastery, and also information that it is linked in some manner with the Knights of Samular who reside at Summit Hall, and who apparently are worthy of trust in all matters.  Thorg was apparently at the same meeting but was characteristically un-forthcoming as to what was discussed.  Sorrell and Feyabelle have returned with tales of an ancient dwarven city under the Sumber Hills called Tyar-Besil (Thorg nodded taciturnly at this point), and also the suggestion that having found cults of air, earth and water, we should expect one of fire somewhere.  They also returned with news of a more urgent errand; a delegation of wood elves who are besiged by orcs at a place called Dellmon Ranch, and require rescue.  I would comment that I am not a boy to be sent on errands, but I have an affinity with the wood elves from my youth and so am always willing to help them (I think the only reason I tolerate Feyabelle).

Given that Summit Hall is on the way to Dellmon Rach, we fly there initially.  There we meet Lady Ushienne Stormlianner, who commands the Order of Samullar, an order of knights dedicated to Tyr.  It seems, in the course of a long exposition, that the Sacred Stone Monastery was founded by his brother Renwick, who, despite being a good paladin of Tyr, ended up descending to lichedom in order to save himself from death on the battlefield.  The Sacred Stone Monastery is no longer in the hands of those loyal to Renwick or the Order of Samullar, and they therefore charge us to determine that his tomb remains undefiled.  They have a more immediate need for us however, for one of their number, Erned Stoutblade, but recently departed for Dellmon Ranch in order to investigate reports of marauding orcs, and now finds himself besieged there by the self same orcs.  I recognise a direction from the gods as well as the next gnome, and resign myself that Dellmon is our next destination (Sorrell and Feyabelle had left me in little doubt of that anyway).

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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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Bear-hug

As the watchman slumped against the wall, and it became apparent that no one was watching the watchman, I led the rest of the party across the wall walk and into the shadow of the keep.  We paused briefly for me to listen at the door, but I didn’t hear anything, so we cautious started opening it.  This was met by a shout from inside (strange how they didn’t assume it was just the watchman coming in to relieve himself), so i threw caution to the wind, threw it open and rushed in.  I rapidly assessed the situation within.  Two of the strange water cult warriors were sitting at a table on my right, while another two were reposed on a bunk straight ahead of me.  I’m a lover, not a fighter, so I used my small size and nimbleness to dash across the room in front of their startled faces, and slide under the occupied bunk on the far side. As I did so, I used a minor magic to extinguish the torch on the wall next to the door, leaving only one torch illuminating the room.  I reasoned that we could all see well in the dark, and they might not be able to, so this would give us an advantage.

From my position under the bunk, I could observe little of the start of the fight, although there was the clash of steel.  I could hear Thorg’s characteristic stream of Dwarven invective that was a sure sign that he had missed, and the appearance of a large pair of furry claws in front of the bunk told me that Sorrel had once again transformed herself into a bear.  Seeing that the bunk above me was still occupied, I stabbed upwards through the mattress and was rewarded with a scream of pain.  Unfortunately whoever I stabbed wasn’t killed by it as an arm wielding a sword appeared over the edge of the bunk and scythed under it.  I was unfortunately overstretched and unable to extricate my sword from the mattress to block it so the hideous serrated edge of it caught me and tore through my scalp and shoulder, ripping open my flesh.  I was gratified though to see Sorrel tear my assailant’s arm off with her next blow.  Rolling out from under the bed, I stabbed at another one of the warriors, bleeding heavily from various claw and bite wounds, finishing him off.  As I caught my breath, I saw that my companions had finished off the rest of the warriors.

Given the noise they had been making, obviously in an attempt to summon reinforcements, it was obvious that taking a rest wasn’t really an option.  I gladly took a potion of healing that Thorg proffered and quaffed it, which staunched the worst of the bleeding.  Hopefully I won’t be left with any kind of permanent scar.  While I was doing this, Sorrel barged through the other door of the room while Allyria barricaded the door behind us.  Slipping round Sorrel, I saw that the door opened (or would have opened if Sorrel had used the handle) into a short corridor.  To my right was the balcony that I had seen over the great hall.  I could see Jollivar and his lieutenant standing by the fire, and two more of the warriors rushing up the stairs towards us.  Seeing Sorrel they briefly paused, but a roar from Jollivar spurred them on.  Assuming that Sorrel had things in order, I went the other way up the corridor to investigate the door at the far end.  Trying to listen with all this noise seemed pointless, so I opened it.  The room beyond occupied the whole of the semi-circular end of the keep and was sparsely furnished as a bedroom.  My interest was attracted by some chests on the far wall when a shout from Feyabelle attracted my attention.  Tempted as I was by the chests, and irritated by the rest of the party’s inability to function without my aid, I turned back to help them.

Thorg told me afterwards what had happened.  The two warriors had advanced on Sorrel.  She had grabbed one, snapped his spine in half and thrown his limp body over the balcony to the floor below.  Feyabelle had used the opportunity when Sorrel moved forward to plug the other warrior with an arrow, and Thorg had finished him off with his axe.  By now though, Jollivar and his lieutenant were advancing up the stairs, one on each side.  The lieutenant was now shimmering with icy blue light light though, and Jollivar had transformed into a strange boar-man hybrid, human in body, but with a boar’s head.  Feyabelle had hit the lieutenant with another arrow, causing her blue light to briefly flicker and diminish somewhat in intensity, but Jollivar had charged straight up the stairs and into Sorrel, knocking her off her feet and slashing her with his tusks.  Sorrel had clawed back, but the deep slashes she inflicted had healed with preternatural speed.  Recognising from her lore the unnatural healing of a were-boar, Feyabelle had realised that magic or silver weaponry was required to hurt Jollivar, so had called me.

As I reappeared, the lieutenant transformed as well, metamorphosing into a great constrictor snake of water.  Feyabelle shot it, knowing that he arrows would do no damage to the were-boar Jollivar.  Thorg slashed at it with his axe, cleaving it mightily, but also suffering himself from the intense cold that was radiating from the blue light.  With his blow though, the blue light flickered, faded and vanished.  On the other side, Sorrel, having realised that her claws were not hurting Jollivar, rushed at him and knocked him right back down the stairs.  Once again, though, he stood up, straightened his broken arm and started charging back up the stairs.  Realising the need of the situation instantly, I whipped out my wand of magic missiles and blasted him with three of them. This time Sorrel stood aside from the top of the stairs, so Jollivar was unable to charge her down, but he wielded a great maul in one hand.  He hit Sorrel with it, sending her reeling.  Sorrel once again grabbed him and hurled him down the stairs, and I send three more fiery darts into him, but this was a slow way of inflicting damage upon him.

Meanwhile, now that her icy blue aura had dissipated, Thorg, Feyabelle and Allyria set about the lieutenant with a vengeance.  She managed to throw her coils around Thorg and start squeezing, but that was her last action.  A blow from Allyria finished her, and she transformed back into a woman as she died.   Sorrel and I were continuing to struggle against Jollivar however.  Thinking quickly, now that the lieutenant was dead, I shouted at Feyabelle to grab my daggers and attack Jollivar with them, as they were magical and would at least hurt him, unlike any of our more potent weapons.  She did so, and Sorrel quickly adapted to the idea.  Rather than throwing Jollivar down the stairs, she grappled him in a bear hug and swung him round to face Feyabelle.  She plunged both daggers into him, not once but twice, as he wrestled to escape Sorrel’s grasp.  I fired another set of fiery darts into him.  Still he rages and struggled, trying to break free from Sorrel – was there nothing that would fell this monstrosity.  We were conscious that our attacks were mere pin-pricks to him, but at least he was now bleeding and showing signs of exhaustion.  Thorg leapt in to try and help restrain him, but was unable to get a good grasp, and Sorrel once again pinned him for Feyabelle to stab.  Thorg in his turn grabbed the daggers off Feyabelle and lunged with them himself, putting all his strength behind them to push them deep into Jollivar’s flesh.  He screamed in pain, as I hit him with another three fiery darts, and slumped in Sorrel’s arms, transforming back into a man as he died.  At last, our thousand cuts had finished him, but we were all weak and battered ourselves.

Sorrel and Thorg rushed downstairs to barricade the great doors of the hall before Sorrel slumped and turned back into a woman again.  Allyria and I investigated the room upstairs that we had not seen.  It also was a bedroom, but the floor was covered with a mysterious sheen of water.  Concerned, we returned to the great bedroom at the far end, which we assumed was Jollivar’s.  The chests turned up some sacks of coins and gems, but nothing more interesting.  We returned to the watery bedroom, which we assumed belonged to the lieutenant.  Espying a chest under the bed from my low eye-level, I cautiously advanced across the floor and extracted it.  It too proved to contain coins and gems, but also two scrolls containing spells that I had not seen before – one for hastening a person for a brief period of time, the other for creating a wall of water.  Both looked rather complex for my current understanding of the magic arts.  Downstairs, Sorrel and Feyabelle started to leaf through a large sheaf of papers lying on a desk by the fire…

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I am legend

After a gentle sail up the impressively large Dessarin river (around half a mile wide here it appeared, which convincingly disabused even Sorrel of her initial plan for swimming across it from the Sumber Hills on the way to Summit Hall), including a quiet and restful overnight, we arranged our pace such that we would arrive at Rivergard Keep as dusk was falling.  We proceeded as we approached to put my carefully designed plan into action.  While the rest of us cowered in the cabin, I disguised myself using my previously acquired skills in this department as the recalcitrant halfling who had formerly served as the first mate.  We also disguised Therel as the deceased deck hand, while Thedorm played himself with remarkable facility.  As we neared the chain boom that stretched across the river gate, a we were hailed by one of the sentries on the wall.  I cast an illusion of Captain Quanderil sitting on the quarterdeck, and Thedorm responded that we were the Rivermaid returned.  A lanky head poked out of a window in the left hand river tower and looked us over, asking what our voyage had been like.  I made the illusion seem to be Quanderil waving to the man and then going below.  Thedorm replied that the pickings had been reasonable.  Obviously satisfied with our responses and identity, the chain was lowered and we moored along the quay by the outer wall.  The guards from the wall were watching us, which prevented us using plan A of all sneaking off the boat, so we moved seamlessly to plan B.  Thedorm called up, to explain that he had four new recruits that they had picked up.  Two guards appeared, armed with curious shark-teeth swords and shields made from turtle shells.  They brusquely accompanied Sorrel, Arielle, Feyabelle and Thorg us to the keep and showed them in.

Inside was a large, gruff man, who we immediately assumed was Jollivar Grimjaw.  He was attended by a woman who appeared to be his lieutenant and two guards.  Words were exchanged I understand, and I get the impression that Jollivar was not at all jolly, and pretty suspicious of the new recruits.  Nonetheless he agreed to try them out and ordered them to be quartered for the night.  I then say them being marched from the keep into a low building in the centre of the fort.  Here they were introduced to other members of the garrison, and allocated two bunks (between the four of them).

They soon reappeared at the boat, saying that they had received an unfriendly welcome from the rest of their bunkmates, who were eight mercenaries and two of the elite guards, called reavers.  They proposed to take a keg of ale back with them to try and get their companions drunk enough to sleep through them leaving the barracks.  I promised to remain in touch with Thorg using my messaging cantrip.

I messaged them in an hour and received a curt response from Thorg.  Plans had changed apparently.  The reavers were not drinking and grudgingly allowing the others to drink.  There were now four reavers in the barracks, and one bandit would guard each door through the night.  Sneaking out was no longer an option, Sorrel and the others had decided that we needed to kill them as they slept.

I was concerned about this turn of events, because I am not usually in favour of killing those who are helpless, unless truly evil, and I felt that a great many of the garrison, like us, were just trying to make an honest living in a hard world, trying to escape from hard lives scrabbling a living from the soil.  Plus some of those garrison members were also the young lads from Womford that had joined up – should they really be punished like this for a momentary lapse of judgement?  But a message cantrip is no place to try and change the mind of a hardened killer, and Sorrel’s instincts were definitely driving her at this point.  I went along with the plan, because it would be even worse to leave my friends without backup at this time, and it is certain that this fortress is a focus for evil along the Dessarin valley, as Endrith had indicated.  Or rather he had indicated that there was evil afoot along the Dessarin valley; I had traced the source of it to this tumbledown castle.

I snuck carefully up to the east door of the barracks and messaged Arielle to let her know I was there.  I didn’t know why I needed to do this, but soon understood as I saw the black smoke of her shadow magic wreathing me.  Satisfied that I was now almost completely invisible to those on the walls, I snuck around to the north door as I had been ordered and messaged Arielle again, then activated the poison on my venom blade. I teased open the door, and then before the guard sat next to it could respond, struck him with my dagger.  The strike was true and the venom did its work quickly.  Looking around the room, I saw my friends rapidly dispatching the sleeping guards and reavers.  Soon we were standing alone in our gruesome charnelhouse, and they filled me in quickly.  The guards on the walls were pretty drunk, having partaken from the key before they were replaced, and would now be on guard until morning.  The reavers had threatened to call in Jollivar if anyone had gotten too drunk though, so the other bandits were only merry, which is why they had had to kill all of them.  The two awake guards had meant that they had had no chance of leaving without the alarm being raised in some way.

We had an hour before the shadow magic would wear off, so we needed to move quickly.  We crossed the bailey, wreathed in shadow, and listened at the great door of the keep.  We could hear low voices within, and Blinky, perching by an arrowslit high up in the wall could see Jollivar and his lieutenant talking in front of the fire.  We decided not to confront them and moved east around the other big building in the bailey.  On the east side were double doors – cautiously opening these we saw it was a temple.  Thedorm had spoken of a crazy woman who urged on the cultists in the chapel, and there appeared to be some sleeping pallets at the far end.  I snuck up the chapel alone, and could see a woman sleeping there with two of the reavers.  Creeping forward, I slit her throat, and then the throats of the two reavers sleeping on either side of her.

Exiting the chapel, we proceeded to the northernmost river tower.  Listening at the door there, we heard guttural tones in a language that sounded a bit like goblin.  Feyabelle examined the ground outside, but a quick sniff of the air confirmed to her that there were bugbears inside, although only a handful.  We decided that killing even a couple of bugbears would be a noisy task and decided to leave them while we continued to search for the missing ambassadors.  Returning to the opposite corner of the castle, we passed the ruined stableblock and found the gatehouse.  There was no noise at the door, but on opening it we found four more sleeping guards, who we killed as they slept.  Ascending the stairs to the upper floor, we found more guards sleeping, along with two more reavers.  All these also perished at our blades as we slept.  Killing men in their sleep still seems a nasty business to me, but I could not disagree with Sorrel that it was allowing us to venture almost unhindered around the castle, although so far we had found no sign of the captives.  The upper floor of the gatehouse had doors onto the wallwalk.  I opened the one to the wall leading to the keep – the guard on duty there was slumped bored against the parapet.  Swiftly I cast a sleep spell upon him, and watched him slump down against the wall.

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Change of direction

My night time precautions prove effective, as we are untroubled in our sleep – obviously any potential assailants realise that they are up against a master in such matters and decide to wait upon easier sheep to prey upon.  We awake in the morning and venture forth to find the ferry, only to discover that our informants have misinformed up upon this matter as the ferry has been replaced by a fine stone bridge many years ago.  That is always the problem with the memories of elves – they are always thinking back to the time of their youth, rather that focusing on the here and now.  Anyhow, the bridge proves to be sturdy and fully functional in its purpose of conveying us to the fine town of Womford, so we proceed.  Unfortunately, our progress to the fine town of Womford is prevented by the discovery that Womford is actually a miserable hamlet, boasting a dilapidated wharf with three river barges tied up, a run down general store and a rather dubious looking tavern.  Short of alternatives, we fall back upon my normal recourse in any situation, and head for the tavern.  The tavern keeper seems bemused to see so many strangers in at such an early hour, but perks up when I order five tankards of ale (or the nearest potable alternative).  There is one other inhabitant of the bar, who perks up when I include him in our largess.  He drinks our health and then launches into a long (and possibly slightly drunken, which is impressive given the early hour of the morning – obviously a true knight of the tavern) rant about how things have gone to the bad around here.  This is saved from being the usual elven maudlin lament for how so much better things were in the old days, by being specific on what is the problem, the problem in question being river pirates.  I prick up my (undeniably cute) ears at this, for Endrith had tasked me, as the most resourceful and bravest of the Harper agents in the area, with the complex and dangerous task of infiltrating the river pirate organisation, and bringing its leaders to justice (summary or otherwise).  Thus I was most interested in this line of conversation, and plied him with more ale, which he gladly and thirstily accepted, in order to find out what he knew of them.

They were apparently a scourge on all traffic on the river, and indeed three youths from Womford had even joined them as they seemed to be the new power in the area.  They were, apparently, so brazen that one of their boats was even at this very moment tied at the wharf below, the River Lady.  It is captained apparently by a blue man by the name of Shoalar Quandrille.  Fascinated by this information, I finished quaffing my ale, and stroll outside to cast a glance over the River Lady and it’s crew, for the name of Shoalar Quandrille was one I had heard before.  Indeed he was one of the villains that had been named to be by Endrith as a ringleader of the river pirates and someone who should be eliminated as a threat.  I found a vantage point by the corner of a building and easily identified the River Lady, as it is the closest of the three wherries that are moored alongside.  There was a sole crewman visible, swabbing the quaterdeck (as I understand it is termed).

My interest in the vessel was now fully piqued.  The original plan had been to continue onwards to Summit Hall, but this seemed too interesting an opportunity to overlook.  Had I been alone, I would have considered attempting to sign on as a new recruit and infiltrate the organization from the bottom upwards, but with five of us, all heavily armed and diverse, it seemed too complex an enterprise.  Feyabelle, on the other hand, felt that the more direct approach was best, a quick attack on the boat to eliminate it as a threat and find out some information.  I was nervous about what the locals might think if we just suddenly launched an unprovoked attack on a vessel at anchor, so Thorg offered to go and get them to start a fight.  He stomped off down the hill and a brief conversation ensued, which, as Thorg had predicted, rapidly descended into violence.  As he approached, a blue man, obviously Shoalar Quandrille, came out on deck, and when I say blue, he was actually blue skinned.  The conversation was hard to hear, but I think I heard him refer to Thorg as shorty, and soon afterwards, Thorg made a comment about him being untrustworthy on account of his skin colour.  That seemed to work, as the blue man started to wave his hands about as if about to cast a spell.  Thorg hefted his axe, but I was on a hair trigger for this, and shot three magic missiles from my wand at his at the first sign of trouble.  Feyabelle followed this up with a bullseye arrow, and Thorg swung an struck him a glancing blow with his axe.  Sorrel rushed forwards and turned into a bear (again).  The blue man had by this time completed his spell, and a great wave of water rose up and crashed over Thorg and Sorrel, knocking Thorg off his feet and washing him off the gangplank and back onto the quayside.  Arielle used her mystic mastery to impose an area of silence over the whole boat, but then two more deck hands boiled up to join the first one who had dropped his mop and picked up a light crossbow.  Two of the deck hands shot at us with crossbows, while the third, a halfling, attacked Thorg, who was still lying on the floor.  One of the deck hands shot at Arielle, who leapt to the side, and caught the quarrel out of the very air, flipped it over and was able to throw it back, hitting the shooter with his own bolt.  I cast a sleep spell over the boat, and one of the deckhands with a crossbow dropped in a slumber.  Feyabelle hit the blue man with another arrow, and he dived over the side of the boat.  Sorrel lunged forward over Thorg to slash and bite the halfling, as the gangplank creaked ominously under their weight.  Thorg got back onto his feet and grabbed his crossbow, shooting at the deckhand at point blank range, and still managing to miss.  Feyabelle threw another dart at the remaining deckhand, whose shot then hit Thorg.  Thinking quickly, I sent Blinky up to see which direction the blue man was swimming in, then rushed over and fired another five magic missiles into him.  He stopped struggling and started floating downstream.  Feyabelle shot the deckhand with the crossbow, killing him, and Sorrel bit the head off the halfling. Thorg dashed onto the boat next door, grabbing a boathook to try and fish out the body of the blue man, but Arielle dived into the river and pulled it to shore.

We were quickly surrounded by a crowd of locals, who made it clear that rather than regarding us as blood-crazed lunatics, they were fully appreciative of our effort in removing this scourge from their village.   All except Sorrel, who they remained nervous of now that they knew that she could turn into a bear.  We quickly tied up our sleeping captive, and searched the boat.  We found five more dwarvish tomes that looked like the one that Endrith had shown me, plus some money and a finely worked dagger that on later investigation turned out to be a dagger of venom.  The hold was full of supplies and trade goods, presumably looted from passing boats.

Having satisfied ourselves that there was nothing more to be found we started interrogating our prisoner.  He started out cocky, but when we told him of the fates of his captain and the rest of his crew he rapidly became amenable.  It seemed that he had little loyalty for his captain, being just a hired mercenary looking to make a living working as a river pirate.  Their base was somewhere called Riverguard Keep, which was upriver in the Sumber Hills, although towards this end of the hills.  There was an organisation there dedicated to the worship of water, led by a crazy woman in the chapel.  Those in charge were devotees of this cult, but the majority of the pirates were hired mercenaries like him, who were just fighting for the money.  The keep was build right on the river, with a river gate that allowed the boats to access it.  The fort was run by a man called Jolliver Grimjaw.  This name was also not unknown to me, having been mentioned to me by Endrith as another one of the river pirates who needed to be eliminated.  In among all his other ramblings, he happened to mention that they had ferried four captives across to the keep a couple of weeks ago, and the descriptions that he gave matched those of the embassy given by Endrith.  This new information suggested to me that we should change our plans once again.  What was the point of going to Summit Hall if we now had intelligence that they embassy had crossed the river weeks ago.  This was now the freshest lead on the fate of the embassy that we had, so it seemed our bounden duty that we should follow it.  The main issue that we had was that we were not exactly experienced boatmen, and an, it turned out, related issue, was that we had a prisoner, and no obvious law enforcement agency to hand him over to.  However he indicated that his loyalty to the pirates was now gone, and that indeed, he feared if he returned there they would kill him.  The offer of two gold coins a week was enough to buy his loyalty, and he pledged to serve us.  In addition we were able to hire a young chap from the village, who was keen to serve under such an obvious hero as me and strike a blow against the pirates who had been terrorizing the river.

We therefore enjoyed a good lunch provided for us by the grateful townsfolk, and left, sailing upriver, folk-heroes once again in another community.  Surely there will soon be no village, hamlet or other gathering place in the Dessarin Valley that will not have a statue to Erky the Brave?  Anyway, as we sailed up river, we discussed the fort with Thedorm, our new hireling and recent turncoat.  He told us much of the operations of the place, as far as he knew them, and we came up with the outlines of a plan.  We would sail into the water gate around dusk, as if returning from an expedition, which indeed they had been on the verge of doing.   Thedorm would act as steersman and would give the sign and countersign, being known to the gatekeeper.  He would introduce >>>> as a new recruit.  I would disguise myself, being a master of disguise, as the halfling mate, which is a role suitable to my stature.  Meanwhile, I would use my Silent Illusion to show them an image of Captain Quandrille leaving the deck and going below.  This would then hopefully satisfy them that Captain Quandrille was on board, and Thedorm would cover for him, saying that he was busy and did not wish to be disturbed.  The rest of us would then hide below decks.  We would then tie up at the main wharf to unload cargo.  If there were no other cargo unloaders present, we would take the opportunity to sneak into the castle, otherwise we would be introduced as prospective new recruits and rely on that to get us an interview with Jollivar, the commander of the fort.

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High flying bird

Catching my breath as I relaxed following this epic encounter, I moved towards Larrakh to examine his body, checking that he was really dead and this wasn’t some devious and underhand trick worthy of such an obviously evil and depraved villain.  He proved to be truly dead; Arielle muttered something about having struck to merely knock him out, but Thorg had no such qualms and the large axe wound in his chest removed any lingering possibility that he was merely faking his demise.  He proved to be equipped with nothing other than some small metallic bars, which Thorg identified as Mirabar trading tokens.  We took them anyway, although I usually have little truck with fiat currencies.

A search of the room proved similarly futile, apart from these 6 stone slabs, each with a human skeleton on it.  Investigation revealed that each skeleton had some kind of injury, and Thorg ventured, from his first hand experience, that these were the sort of injuries that would occur in mining or rockfalls.  These skeletons then appeared to be the mysterious delvers.

I dispatched Sorrel and Thorg to fetch our two prisoners, the cryptic old man in the corridor and the single remaining cultist from the chamber with the statue.  Sorrel returned swiftly, bearing one in paw (bearing – get it), and we started to re-interrogate the old man.  He seemed discombobulated by the death of Larrakh, although continued to sing his praises as a prophet who could interpret the messages from the delvers.  I suggested that his powers of interpretation would be strictly limited from now on, and that possibly more co-operation would be helpful, especially since he had warned Larrakh of our presence.  I mentioned the murdered bodies that we had found, and inferred that things might look bad for him with the local authorities.  He claimed to have nothing to do with any kind of violence or murder, just being part of a local charitable organisation that revered the delvers and sort to do good deeds, organise tombolas, and stuff like that.  I did manage to get to start naming some of the members, reluctantly, when suddenly Constable Harburk burst in with several deputies, and a craven looking half-orc.  He seemed confused to find us, but recognized us and thanked us for our role in rescuing the children.  We explained our role and actions in this underground complex, and he dispatched a constable to investigate our claims of murder victims.  He explained that he had ventured down the main corridor and the ceiling contained a number of cage traps, which had pinned them, but that the half-orc had released them when he realised the importance of whom he had trapped and didn’t want to take responsibility for that action.  The constable returned and confirmed our story, so we jointly exited through the quarry entrance.

Over the next couple of days, we were universally praised as the rescuers of small children and harbingers of all that is good and right in the world.  Not that this seemed to wear off on Sorrel, who has become increasingly grumpy and aggressive since the bear incident.  If I didn’t know better I would say that she was actually becoming part bear.  Certainly the way she tears into her food and devours it raw is enough to unsettle even the most broad-minded and would make her presentation in polite society completely impossible.

I dropped in on Endrith again and updated him on our subterreanean progress.  It was notable that certain senior members of the village ‘vanished’ over the next couple of days, so it seemed that Constable Harburk was obviously following up on the information we had gathered for him.  I was reassured that my original concerns that the good Constable might be in some way associated with this organisation and that its tendrils might have completely ramified Red Larch were not realised, and that he was obviously a dependable servant of law and order (or possibly playing an even deeper game, so completely embedded that his reveal as the evil mastermind behind the who organisation would be even more devastating when it came).

Anyway, Endrith seemed little interested in my conspiracy theories, which he referred to for some reason as ‘advanced paranoia’.  Apparently greater things were afoot – an embassy from Mirabar to Waterdeep had gone missing, and he would like us to investigate their whereabouts.  Of considerable interest was a dwarven scholar who was travelling with them along with a library of ancient texts of inestimable value.  Enderath was concerned that he had only that day purchased an ancient dwarven tome from a passing merchant who in turn had bought it from a mysterious stranger in Womford.  Ancient tomes sounded very interesting to me – I know that some wizards will pay a fortune for old tomes.

I returned to my companions and related the tale of the missing manuscripts to them, and announced my intention to travel to Womford to see if we could locate the rest of them.  I made no mention of how valuable I thought they might be – no need to raise expectations that I might not intend to meet later on.  The ladies however, led by Sorrel, who now insists on being called ‘Storm’, and such a name certainly matches her new temperament, insisted that they would do no such thing.  They had heard also of this missing embassy, but also from some old shepherd of some newly dug graves on the Sumber Hills.  They demanded that we go and investigate them, and then go on to Beliard, which apparently was where the embassy had last been seen.  It was apparently on the way from there to Summit Hall to deposit the body of a knight that they were carrying from Mirabar to be buried in honour there.  Given the appearance of the manuscripts at Womford, which was on the road beyond Summit Hall, it seemed to be that starting at Womford and working back up the road was the obvious and intelligent route of investigation, but Storm was obdurate on the matter, and so I acquiesced gracefully and agreed to accompany them for their own protection and safety.

We departed Red Larch and proceeded, guided by the shepherd up the Larch Path, and then westwards into the hills.  He showed us the graves, which had obviously been recently dug.  There were four graves, each containing a body, covered in stones to stop the scavengers reaching them.  We found some artefacts around as well; an old grey cloak, a broken arrowhead and a javelin, which suggested there might have been a fight here.  The four bodies were:

These were obviously not the members of the embassy.  Two of them appeared to be cultists of some sort – one from the Howling Hatred based on his symbol, and obviously one from some other related cult based on his similar but different symbol.  We surmised that the other two might have been their victims – a battle must have taken place here between cultists and non-cultists, and two of each must have died and been buried.

Feyabelle ranged around and found tracks leading off to the south and the south east.  Away over to the west we saw a tower among the hills with birds wheeling around it.  The shepherd identified this is Feathergale Spire.  The mention of feathers could not but help remind us of Larrakh and his feather masked allies, and we wondered as to the coincident location of this tower so close to Red Larch.  The name of Feathergale also reminded Thorg of something.  He had heard of an organisation of nobles in Waterdeep called the Feathergale somethings, and was keen to find a member called Thurl Merroska.  I assume he must have owed Thorg some money as he seemed quite insistent on finding him.  Storm decided however not to investigate the tower and that we should proceed directly to Summit Hall.  I pointed out that the Dessarin River lay between us and Summit Hall, and the shepherd concurred that it could only be crossed by bridge or ferry.  We decided therefore to proceed southward towards Bargewright Inn and Womford, where there was a ferry apparently.  I agreed readily, since I had always wanted to go to Womford anyway.

We reburied the bodies, and encamped uneventfully for the night with the shepherd.  Our journey southward proceeded at a good pace, as we knew we had many miles to cover to reach the Bargewright Inn before nightfall.  After a few hours though, we saw that we were being pursued by 3 avian shapes.  As they came closer, we realised that there were giant vultures of some kind, and that each had a rider as well.  Their attitude did not look friendly so we decided that to start shooting.  Feyabelle cast Hunter’s Mark and shot the middle one, hitting him squarely in the chest.  Thorg shot with his crossbow and missed.  Arielle hit one of the wingmen with a dart and I then used my wand to send three Magic Missiles after him.  He fell lifeless from the back of his bird.  The leader though swooped down on Feyabelle and hit her with a javelin.  We returned fire, although Feyabelle missed this time because of the javelin wound.  Thorg hit, but only a glancing blow with his quarrel.  I used another Magic Missle and Arielle hit with another dart.  Storm stepped forward as the leader flew over and cast Thunderwaveat him, but this failed to unseat him although it did cause him to miss with his second javelin.  The other wingman also cast a javelin, but missed.  We returned fire again, and managed to kill the leader by combining on him.  The last wingman broke off and left, but we also felled him before he could escape out of range.  The three birds flapped off.  We examined the three bodies.  The leader looked well dressed and elegant, obviously a man of breeding an importance.  The two wingmen on the other hand looked starved and emaciated.  Each of them was dressed in a white cloak with black feathers and blue leather armour with the symbol of the Howling Hatred.  We took the cloaks and armour and left the bodies for the buzzards.

Pressing on, we reached the Bargewright Inn just as they were shutting the gates for the night.  We entered and found the inn itself, in the centre of a gaggle of lesser dwellings and hovels that had gathered around it and immured themselves for their own protection.  The inn seemed seedy and run down, a hive of scum and villainy that reminded me of some of the less salubrious places I had frequented when short of funds in Waterdeep.  The barkeeper seemed friendly though, although not forthcoming on the subject of manuscripts or tomes.  We settled in to spend the evening in pleasant company, while keeps ours ears and eyes open for any strange rumours or stranger folk.  We shall certainly take precautions against having our throats cut for our valuables this night.

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Going underground

I was relaxing in Red Larch with my new found companions celebrating my heroic deeds in defeating the Necromancer of Lance Rock, regaling the locals with tales of derring-do and toying gently with some carbonised lamb, when suddenly a hue and cry went up from outside in the street.  Arielle, who had been deep in conversation with Thorg, having discovered a common interest in geology and speleology, cried out in horror, for she had forseen from the local morphology that the area might be subject to sinkholes.  When we emerged into the sunlight, we saw that Arielle’s fears for the local subsoil was justified, for there was a large sinkhole that had opened in the road near the crossroads.  I boldly led my companions forward, for a large crowd had gathered around the hole, with some village elders attempting to hold people back.  The villagers were distressed however for several children had fallen into the sinkhole, although fortunately they appeared to be unharmed, and standing on a pile of earth in the centre of the hole.  There appeared to be large chamber below that the sinkhole had opened into, so I retired to a nearby unoccupied doorstep and sat down in order to project my senses into those of Blinky my familiar.  We swooped down through the hole and around the chamber.  It appeared unoccupied although there was a door on the eastern wall and a corridor exiting to the north.  The chamber itself was roughly finished and of exceptionally large size.  I am no expert in such matters, unlike Thorg, but I am surprised that the village is still standing at all with a void of such size under it.

Returning from my trance, I heard the village elders continuing to warn the others to stay away from the hole and muttering about not disturbing the ‘delvers’ whoever they might be.  They were attempting to reassure the village that the children were unharmed and could easily wait for a while to be rescued.  The rest of the crowd did not seem to accept this advice however, and rope was rapidly thrust into our hands.  We quickly belayed it off on Thorg, whose low height and large waist eminently qualified him for the role of bollard.  The children were quickly rescued, to the relief and acclamation of the crowd.  Questioning of the elders about these ‘delvers’ provided no information, just mumbling and refusals, so we decided rapidly to investigate the hole below, even though the elders forbade it.  It seems that this village is not entirely in favour of gerontocracy.  We climbed down the rope and investigated the room.

The room itself was full of strange buffeting drafts and gusts of wind.  The door to the east turned out to be of stone, and Thorg ascertained that it slid to one side.  On the floor in front of it were two used robes and a half empty waterskin.  From behind the door we could hear the noise to birds chirping and singing.  We decided instead to investigate the corridor to the north.  This was a roughly formed corridor that sloped upwards and then came to a wooden door, sloped back between floor and ceiling.  We opened this, and discovered that the corridor continued, but lit by daylight, as it soon opened out above ground.  I snuck forward and discovered that it opened out in a discrete and hidden corner of the town quarry.  Methinks that Madame Mellikho does indeed have something to hide from us.

We returned, unseen due to my outstanding powers of concealment, to the first chamber, and opened the stone door to the east.  Beyond was a straight and well made corridor, sloping downwards initially and then flattening out.  Where it flattened out stood two large statues of dwarves with axes and shields, facing one another with their backs to the walls.  Blinky flew beyond to the far end and I saw with her own eyes that there was another stone door at the far end.  The ceiling of that far part was also strange, as it was made of an iron framework with ten-foot square panels of stone within them.  My experienced senses and rational sense of survival that only fools would call paranoia suggested to me that this might a trap.

Examining the statues, we decided that they did not appears to be traps themselves, but instead rather ornate doors that slid to one side.  There are advantages to having a dwarf around with his knowledge of stonework, as well as disadvantages.  We slid the northern dwarf to one side (a sentence one rarely writes), and saw a corridor beyond.  This ran north then east for a while, before opening into a chamber.  Blinky, scouting ahead, came back and reported that there were some people lying in it, and some rats.  The smell suggested that the people lying down were probably dead.  We advanced into the chamber, and were attacked by the rats; fortunately on this occasion, the dead did not rise but stayed conventionally motionless.  My companions made short work of the rats, and so I continued to scout down the corridor beyond.  They examined the bodies – they had been knifed to death it appeared, and each of them had a strange rune carved into their forehead, deep enough to have cut into the bone.  The corridor beyond opened into another chamber, this time we a black rock floating in the centre of it.  This seemed very curious behaviour for a rock – even Thorg was surprised, although he managed to restrain his emotion to just a brief flicker of his right eyebrow.  Investigation revealed that there was a column in the centre of the room that held anything placed in that area aloft and prevented it falling, although did not prevent us from moving things what were floating.  The amusement value of this started to pale after a while, even for Thorg, so we continued once again.

The corridor beyond opened out into a much larger chamber, more of a size with that by which we had first entered the labyrinth.  The centre was dominated by a life-sized stone statue of a dwarf, again with axe.  The statue appeared broken and repaired, and was supported by a wooden frame.  Around it was a circle of pebbles, within which were some coins and gems, and an ornate dagger.  As we circled to the front of the statue, we saw that the frame had some writing on it saying ‘Petrified iron(?) dwarf, found broken in Red Larch West Quarrel DR 1556’.  As we were pondering upon this strange label, and the idea of an underground museum in a village like Red Larch, and why anyone would collect broken petrified dwarfs, the previously unmentioned in this account door on the east wall (there was also one on the west wall) slid open and three men rushed in, in feather masks and with the same strange rune heretofore mentioned emblazoned on their leather armour.  They were brandishing scimitars in a manner which implied that they were not soliciting donations for good causes or inviting us for a cup of tea, and the leader shouted something in a rather cliched evil-villain manner.  We drew our weapons in return and Sorrel, in a rather surprising move, suddenly turned into a brown bear, although our surprise at this was as nothing compared to that of the villains.  Despite this, three more of them piled in and joined the fray, although two did so by shooting from beside the door.  The distance did not help them because bears are quite fast across the ground, so they rapidly found themselves up close and personal with Sorrel.  The fight was quickly over.  During it, one of the villains had crossed the line of pebbles, so we assumed that it was safe to do so, and recovered some gems, gold and silver pieces and the rather nice dagger, which I tucked into my sash for safe keeping.  We also tied up the last fanatic, whom Arielle had knocked unconscious with her staff.

The door through which they had come proved to open into another corridor, with a door at the far end and an old man sitting on a stool in front of it whittling on some wood.  He appeared not to have heard the fight, and was obviously scared to see us, partially because we were armed and bloody, and possibly also because we were accompanied by a brown bear.  We questioned him, which was rather strange, and he assured us that he knew little of what was happening, save that Larrakh was beyond the door, and that he was a wise and powerful man who led the Howling Hatred, as the acolytes we had just slaughtered were called.  The room beyond was the abode/tomb of the delvers which we had heard mentioned above.  The Hatred used these tunnels – he was unsure of their relationship with the delvers.  He did know that Larrakh had great control of the spirits of the air.  It was since he had come that the birds had gathered and the strange gusts of wind appeared.

We decided to tie this irritating old man up, but as we moved to do so, he shouted a brief warning before we could restrain him.  Irritated we bound him tighter and burst into the room beyond.  This was another large, although higher ceilinged chamber.  There were a number of strange edifices on the walls, and in the centre various monoliths and triliths, some standing and some fallen on the floor.  It was lit by a single lantern on the floor in the centre,  I advanced into the room,  keeping to the side walls, to scan for Severin or any of his allies.  Fayabelle dashed in to take cover behind one of the monoliths.  Arielle ran over the other side and took cover behind some monoliths there.  It was only as Thorg stomped into the room directly towards the lantern in the centre that a figure appeared from behind another monolith on the far side of the room, muttering an incantation, which seemed to have little effect.  Sorrel bounded into the room in bear form and launched herself across the fallen monoliths towards the lone cultist.  I whipped out my wand and used three charges to power a flight of five missiles towards him, but he spoke another incantations and the missiles flamed out before they reached him.  Fayabelle shot him with an arrow, but that too bounced off before it hit him, and Arielle’s attacked were similarly ineffective, as was Thorg’s axe.  He then waved his arms again and a great gust of wind blew forth from him,. rocking Arielle and Thorg on their feet.  Sorrel as a bear tried to grapple him to the ground, but he writhed out of her grasp.  I again used my wand, and again the missiles were stopped by an invisible barrier.  This time though, Fayabelle’s arrow struck true.  Arielle kept her footing to whack him with her staff, and the blast of wind stopped as he reeled back.  Thorg then stepped forward to deliver the death blow.  Larrakh collapsed and melodramatically muttered ‘Aerisi’ as he breathed his last.

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