Sildar, a name that held quite a bit of interest to the party. Helvur continued, “There have been a lot of kidnappings lately, and when news reached me that you strange bunch were looking for him, I knew immediately what had happened. We have very few leads right now as to who, or what, is behind these kidnappings. But they are never simple disappearances, always they are accompanied by some kind of wreckage, be it a fire, or a sinkhole, or even a completely toppled home.” The party looked at each other, that perfectly matched the state Sildar’s home was in when they went to look for him.
Ben looked down at Larrakh, on whom they had put a gag. “Do you have anywhere private that we might…talk…to this man?” Helvur raised a brow, “Well, I have my store room I suppose. Just…keep it quiet. We have customers that come in here.” Tallguy idly tossed an iron bar he had found on Larrakh when they captured him. Helvur’s eyes lit up, “Where did you get that?!” Startled, Tallguy dropped the bar, a distinct ring sounded through the air. He quickly snatched it up and cut the ring short. “This? It was on Larrakh here, he had a few of them.”
“May I see them?”
Tallguy hesitated, “Just this one.” He handed over the bar. Helvur turned it in his hands before crying out, “Aha! I knew it! This is the best lead we’ve had in months! These bars belong to the Miribar delegation! See this mark here?” He pointed to a strange, unfamiliar shape on the bar. “This is the mark of Miribar. We have been searching for them every since they went missing two tendays ago! I bet this rat had something to do with it! Find out what you can, whoever took that delegation likely took Sildar as well.”
With that, the party dragged the now concious Larrakh into the supply room. Ben removed the gag, and as he did sent a surge of magic into it, causing spikes to burst out once it had left Larrakh’s mouth. “Oh dear! Forgot about that timer I put on there. Good thing we took that out, huh!” Larrakh sneered at him, “Do what you will, you do not scare me.” Rusty smiled, “Riiiight.” Thus began the interrogation.
“Tell us what you were doing down in those mines, Larrakh.”
He spat on the ground, “What did it look like I was doing? I was with the Believers.” Ben narrowed his eyes, and Tallguy pressed on the bandage that was over the site of the arrow that had pierced Larrakh’s knee." Larrakh cried out in agony, “Do what you want, I won’t talk!”
Ben thought for a moment, then pulled out a scroll he had in his pack. “Ok, first off Larrakh, I want to know where your spellbook is. You’ve got to have one, surely you don’t just have everything memorized.” Larrakh sneered, “Some wizard you are. I need no book, I am one with the earth. I speak, and she obeys.”
“Right, cute. So where did you get the trade bars. Those belonged to the delegation.”
“A little town called Womford, they were for sale.”
“Ok, you know what?” Ben whispered something to Rusty. “You just lay back, and relax, we’re going to find out what we need to know.” Ben opened the scroll, which contained the incantation to cast charm on someone and thus make them cooperative. Ben began to speak, and it was clear Larrakh was steeling his mind through gritted teeth. Just as been finished speaking he sent his hand forward, directing the invisible blast from the spell. Larrakh was prepared though, ready. That is, until Rusty landed a kick square in Larrakh’s crotch. The prisoner lurched forward, heaving, then suddenly straightened up and smiled. “Well, that wasn’t very nice. But then again, I haven’t been the grandest person lately.”
Ben smiled, the spelled seemed to have worked. Tallguy spoke up, “Alright, let’s try this again. What were you doing down in those mines?” Larrakh turned his gaze towards him, still smiling, “Why, I was controlling the Believers!”
“They’re a silly bunch. They seemed to think the stones were actually trying to them! So, I would move the stones occasionally, and tell them the meaning of their movement. Guiding them to do darker and darker things so I could eventually become the master of this little town. Bring it to heel under my command.”
“Why would you do that? What do you gain?”
Larrakh laughed, “I was hoping the Black Earth Cult would take me back in! I was exiled long ago, and had hoped to gain re-entry through proving my worth!”
Ben, Rusty, and Tallguy glanced at each other. Rusty spoke up, “Why were you kicked out? Too much of a pussy?”
Larrakh didn’t even flinch at the insult, “No, I simply failed in my duty to deliver an appropriate sacrifice to the earth.”
“As in…a human sacrifice?”
“Oh no, I never took part it those, that’s for the much more advanced members. I simply was unable to gather the needed supplies in time, so they kicked me out. Friendly bunch though.”
Tallguy glared at him, “Human sacrifice doesn’t sound much like a friendly bunch to me.”
“Well all you have to do is prove you want in and they’ll make you part of the brotherhood! They give you food, drink, shelter, training, all in return for something as wonderful as serving the earth!”
Ben was thinking, trying to decide what piece of information he needed next. Finally, he spoke, “So…where would one go to join this cult?” Tallguy and Rusty spun around and faced him, “What?!” Ben hushed them, and pulled them aside, explaining that they could find the location of the cult, and possibly Sildar and the delegation. They both nodded in understanding, and agreement. "Sorry, " Ben said, returning to Larrakh, “…go ahead and answer the question.”
Larrakh smiled gladly, “Absolutely! You can find them at the Sacred Stone Monastery, in the heart of the Sumber Hills, hidden in the canyons!” It’s about a five day march from here!"
Ben smiled, “Well, that’ll be all Larrakh.” Tallguy hit him with the hilt of his axe, knocking Larrakh unconscious. “Let’s get this scum to the constable for justice.”
After delivering up Larrakh, the party split up in search for more information about the surrounding area. Ben was finally able to collect on Sister Garaele’s promise of magic, and she gave him an ancient book in a language he could not understand. The others managed to find directions to various locations around the Sumber Hills. Though all of them were warned repeatedly about the dangers of the Hills. They discovered the last known location of the Delegation was a place called Beliard. Somewhere between that little town and Summit Hall, the delegation had disappeared.
The party gathered up their things, and rejoined with Hot’man to head off into the Sumber Hills. It was a fairly nice morning, the weather was clear and sunny, and the trail fairly easy east out of Red Larch. In the distance, the beginnings of the Sumber Hills loomed, slowly growing closer with each passing hour. The green fields of the valley began to turn to dull yellow bouts of weeds and various wild grasses that overtook these lands. The path wound gently between two of the hills, and with that, they finally entered the Sumber Hills. The party sat and rested for the night, deciding that it would be wise to be prepared for what lay ahead. As set up camp on the side of the road, a caravan passed them, heading for Red Larch. “Hey there! Where are you guys coming from?” Shouted Tallguy. One man stopped his horse and approached the party. “We hail from Waterdeep, heading to Red Larch for some trade. What are you three doing heading into the Sumber Hills, it’s not safe there you know?” Ben brushed some dust off his robe, “Well, you just came from there.” The man gestured back, “We have guards.” Looking behind the man on the horse, Ben did indeed see a good number of guards protecting the caravan as it traveled. "But, " the man spoke up again, " you four look like quite the capable bunch. I’m sure you’ll be fine. There’s strange things happening in these hills though. Lots of large birds up by Feathergale Spire, one of the old Haunted Keeps. Steer clear of there." Tallguy nodded and the man rode off to catch up with his caravan. It was, thankfully, a peaceful night, and the party felt well rested and prepared to continue quickly in the morning.
The trail led up the side of one of the hills, gently. Occasionally other travelers passed the party, but it was rare. Most the day was spent trudging along the dusty trail. When they reached the top of ridge, a cool wind replaced the stifling heat that lay near the bottom of the hills. They were greeted with a grand view. Far to the north they could see a large canyon, and among it a seemingly tall tower, likely Feathergale spire. To the east, the could see only more hills. They continued onwards, the sun beating down on them. After some time, Rusty cried out, “Look!” There, far in the distance, a slender tornado weaved around the canyon. "How odd, " Ben said, “…there’s not a cloud in the sky.” They watched the spectacle for entertainment as they continued onwards, though slowly the trail began to wind back down to the base of the hills below. As the party approached the base of the hill they had come down, the shadows were beginning to grow long. They chose to stop for the night and set up camp here, as it seemed as good a spot as any. As they rested that evening, Ben sat meditating over the book the Sister had given him. Suddenly a blast of wind hit him and he was flung backwards several feet. A clap of thunder filled the air, though there was no sign of a storm. The clap woke the party up, and then arose to see in the distance three men, donning wings upon their backs walking towards them. One had his arms outstretched, and from it came the blast of air that had sent Ben flying. Tallguy shouted, “Wow, nice to meet you too!” The man put his arms down, and the wind stopped. He seemed curious. “Not often people actually talk to us.” Rusty muttered sarcastically, “Gee, I wonder why.” Ben was incredulous, “Hell of a way to greet someone.” Tallguy put his arm up, indicating for Ben to shut up before he ruined this.
“So…why did you attack us?” Tallguy questioned.
“You are trespassing upon our land, it is punishable by death.”
“You uh, might want to put up signs or something, " Rusty quipped.
Tallguy shot him a glance, “So uh, are you guys from some kind of…..group?”
The men straightened up some and lowered their weapons. “Yes, we are stationed in Feathergale Spire, and worship the air that all of us breath in. It is a powerful thing.”
Shifting on his feet, Tallguy took a stab in the dark, “Well, we were kind of interested in joining you guys, if you’re cool with that.”
The men perked up, “Absolutely! You can find us at Feathergale spire. Enter the front gate and state your intentions, and we shall treat you accordingly. Until then!” With that, dust swirled up around them, and a gust of air blew the party’s fire out as the three men took off into the night air.
Tallguy, Ben, and Rusty stared blankly at each other, before bursting into laughter. “I can’t believe that worked!”
“I figured they were going to try and kill us, considering how they showed up,” chuckled Ben.
After the laughter and cheers died down, the party retired for the evening. When the morning came, they trudged onward, the hot air swirling around them, kicking up the occasional dust devil. Luckily, they were in the shade for the better part of the day due to the every taller hills that surrounded them. The party came to a split in the road, the path to the right began a steep dive into canyons in the distance, whereas the left trail was flat, and remained among the hills. They knew that to the right lay the Sacred Stone Monastery, and the Black Earth Cult. There they might find some answers. So there they went. The followed the trail as the red sandstone cliffs began to slowly rise around them, looming bastions of the earth. Night came, and with it the party stopped to discuss their options. Should they approach in the night, or in the morning? Friendly, or hostile? After some deliberation they chose to the more friendly of the approaches, hoping to talk reasonably with the cultists. With the decision made, they set up camp for the night, and Hot’man Warmguy took first watch.
As Hot’man sat upon a rock in the dark, not far from camp, he heard a rustling in the gully just north of him, down the hill. Focusing, he was able to discern some deep growls…not a good sign. He rushed back to camp and woke the others, “Wake up, something is in the gully. Something big.” Rusty, Tallguy, and Ben groaned as they crawled out of their sleeping sacks. With the flick of a wrist Ben sent his owl into the air to scout out the area. Closing his eyes, fighting sleep, he focused on what the owl could see. Nothing, as it were. Simply the rustle of the bushes. Wanting to know the source of the sound, he sent his owl down into the dense thicket. As it landed, he saw the blur of three Owl Bears rushing from the forest, their hulking bodies moving at disturbing speeds. Branches snapped as the beasts roared forward.
The party quickly drew their weapons to meet the beasts. Ben sent forth a blast of fire, which struck one of the bears, singing its fur off. The other two bears rushed forward and Hot’man ran headlong to meet them. His fists connected time and time again, but not without paying the price of being close to the beasts. The two bears dug their beaks and claws into Hot’Man, and he stumbled backwards, blood pouring from his wounds. Tallguy rushed forward and a light shone around Hot’man as his wounds mended themselves. Tallguy swung his axe hard, breaking the jaw of one of the Owl Bears with a sickening crack. Rusty sent forth arrow after arrow, each one sinking into the hulking beasts. There was little they could do but fight desperately against the ferocious creatures. Owlbear Blood, and humanoid blood, mixed and pooled on the ground in a battle of its own as their owners fought desperately above them. Ben cried out as an Owlbear charged him, ripping a gash across his chest. He fell to the ground and released a blast of magic missile, crushing the creatures skull. This was the turning point in the battle. The heroes rallied and pushed back hard upon the beasts, sinking their blades deep into their muscle. The beasts howled and collapsed to the ground. Horrified, Ben crawled quickly into his tent to tend to his wounds, the others did likewise. Though they slept uneasy through the night, alert for every sound, they were prepared to begin again the next morning.
Ben however, expressed his doubts, “Perhaps we should look for the delegation first, and approach this group after we have done so?” The others discussed among themselves which course of action would be best, and ultimately they opted to hunt for the missing delegation before approaching the cultists. This choice, though seemingly insignificant, proved to be a saving grace for the party in the near future.
The party pressed northwards, retracing their steps on the trail, until choosing the northern path at the fork, taking them towards the Stone Bridge. As they approached, Tallguy gasped in awe. Before them stood one of the most renowned dwarven works in all the world. A Stone Bridge, perhaps 15 feet wide, bridged the gap of Dessarin valley far beneath them. With no supports, it was created of fused marble, and crossed 400 feet above the valley below, spanning 2 miles. The dwarves had apparently forgotten the guard rails, because there were none upon the looming landmark. Ben and Rusty looked down over the edge of the cliff where the bridge began. The wind whipped about them as they started into the valley floor far below. “Perhaps we should wait until morning to cross this…” Ben said nervously. The other’s nodded in agreement and set up camp. Tallguy chose a spot directly next to the bridge, his wonder apparent to all around him. He was clearly proud of his ancestors.
Come the morning, they set off the make the perilous crossing. The wind was strong near the top, and they watched their footing closely so as not to slip and meet a quick end. In the distance, they could see a great gathering of black clouds. “We need to hurry at get across before that arrives!” Yelled Hot’Man, drawing their attention to the coming storm. A powerful gust of wind kicked up, causing some of them to drop to their hands and knees to avoid being knocked over. Eventually, tediously, the crossing came to an end, and they were upon solid ground once again. Ben got to his hands and knees and kissed the dirt. The others looked far more relaxed.
Their travels led them through the town of Beliard, where they purchased some horses to speed up their travels. They then set out south to search for any signs along the trail of the missing delegation. Along the trail they found a small home where a man kindly invited them to stay for the night, away from the dangers of the road. The party gladly took him up on this offer. Eventually, the party reached the intended destination of the delegation, Summit Hall, with no sign along the way of where the delegation had disappeared to. As they approached the gates of this fortress on the hill, a voice called out to them.
“Halt! State your business here at Summit Hall!”
Ben glanced up, squinting against the sun, “We are seeking information about the Miribar Delegation! We have been sent by the Lord’s Alliance.” The guard stepped out of view, and a few moments later the large wooden gate creaked open before them. A woman in plate armor stood in the gateway, helmet at her side. ‘Greetings, and welcome to Summit Hall. I am Uthura Stormbanner, leader of The Knights of Samular. I hear you seek the delegation. Enter, and we may speak over such matters. With that, the party stepped into the safety of Summit Hall with hopes of finding more clues in their quest.
Once inside the compound, Uthura Stormbanner briefed them on the known situation. “We have heard reports of shallow graves near Feathergale spire. Perhaps, though I pray it not so, these grave might be the bodies of some of the delegation.” Tallguy reach into his bag and pulled out one of the delegations trade bars. Uthura’s eyes grew wide, “That’s…a trade bar from the delegation! Where did you find it? Who had it?!” Tallguy explained their encounter with Larrakh, leaving out some of the darker details of the interrogation. Uthura was clearly deep in thought. After a few moments of silence, she spoke up, “First thing tomorrow I shall move towards the shallow graves with a small troop of knights to find what we can. You should continue onward to the Sacred Stone Monastery, see what you can find there.” The group nodded in agreement. "Excellent, " Uthura seemed hopeful again, " you are welcome here tonight, and any night in the future. Eat, rest up, and prepare to set out come first light. May the gods be with you." With that, she showed them to the mess hall, and the barracks where they could rest up for the night.
Rusty slept in a bit, due to a heavy night of drinking, and the party got off to a late start. By the time they had arrived at the front gate to leave, they discovered that Uthura and her troop was already far ahead. They quickly grabbed their horses and headed north for Stone Bridge, at a quick pace. Arriving at stone bridge, they stayed for the evening, figuring it was safer to cross in the morning. Luckily, they had encountered little resistance on their current path. Come morning they set out again, and by the evening they were winding through the ever deepening sandstone canyons that signaled they were near to the Sacred Stone Monastery. They rested for the night, figuring it would be wiser to approach in the morning, so as to look a bit less suspicious.
The night in the canyon was cool, and the wind whipped about them as the heat from the rising sun burned at the canyon tops. The dust on the trail slowly turned to sand as they trudged onwards and slowly upwards through the canyon. Finally, they crossed round a bend and there before them stood and impressively old monastery, nestled in between a spot where the canyon opened up for a ways. They approached with caution, and with awe at the massive canyon walls which rose before them. As they approached the gate, a voice called out. “Who goes there? What business do you have in this sacred place?” The party glanced at each other, and Tallguy spoke up. “We seek to join the Earth cult, we wish to speak to whoever is in charge here.” There was no response. Rusty clenched his blade at his hip, ready for the worst. A loud clang filled the canyon as the doors to the monastery unlocked and swung inwards. There stood two monks, their robes barely brushing the ground, their faces covered with masks like gargoyles. “Enter, and you shall have audience with Qarno, who will determine if you are worthy to serve the earth.” The monks guided the heroes through the old monastery halls, and through an open-air sandstone gallery. They then swung open a pair of doors, beyond which lay a large room with an altar at the far end. The heroes stepped forward, stopping short of some stairs that descended in to darkness in front of the altar. There behind the stone slab, stood a man with no mask, but flanked by guards that donned stone armor and morningstars. The man looked grimly at them, “You wish to serve the earth? What makes you think you are worthy dwarf.” He pointed directly at Tallguy, who stood proudly and replied. “I am a dwarf, my ancestors have worked the earth since the beginning of time. I too wish to know how I may best serve the ground beneath.” Qarno remained expressionless as he questioned each of the heroes on their motives.
“I wish to learn magic, you clearly poses great powerful magic of the earth. I want to learn your ways!” Spoke Ben, intentionally withholding his identity as a wizard until necessary.
“I think the earth’s pretty cool. Rocks and stuff.” Said Rusty blunty. Qarno eyed him a bit longer than the others, before his gaze fell upon Hot’man. “And you, Genasi? You clearly are of the fire element. What business have you with the earth.”
Hot’man had figured a question like this was coming. “I have long wondered about the ways of the earth, as many of my people are among it. I too wish to come to a greater understanding of it.” Qarno nodded, and continued his line of questioning. The most strange of which was asking them what their greatest weaknesses were. Each party member thought for a moment before replying. After the slew of questions was over, Qarno smirked. "We have little use for more monks at this point, but you all seem fit to walk to the path of the warrior. If you wish, proceed down the stairs in front of you. If you pass the trial, you shall be deemed worthy to join the Black Earth.
The party stepped onto the stairs, prepared to face the unknown. Out of the corner of his eye, Hot’man noticed one of the guards reaching for a lever on his pillar. Within a moment the stairs collapsed beneath them, forming a slick stone surface that slid them into the darkness below. The sliver of light that remained from the room above was darkened as a stone slab slammed shut over the opening. They were cast into near total darkness. Hot’man set his hand ablaze so that they could see better, and to their side they saw the dim outline of a hulking beast behind a cage. It’s eyes glimmered in the firelight, its huge form standing 10 or so feet tall, which large pincers for hands. Suddenly, the bars of the cage dropped into the ground, and the beast roar forwards. Tallguy yelled at Hotman and Ben to move, but they simply stood there, staring blankly into the creature’s eyes. Some kind of trance had overtaken them. Suddenly Hotman rushed towards Ben, and with a crack connected his fist against Ben’s jaw. Luckily this impact snapped both of them out of their confusion, and they quickly set upon the beast. Yells went up as they tried to coordinate their attack, and blood sprayed through the air with each blow. To his friends dismay, most of that blood was Hot’man’s. His was being ripped apart by the beasts mandibles and pincers, barely holding on to life. He stumbled away when the beast let go, and leaned against a pillar. Tallguy sent a stream of light to Hot’man, mending some of his wounds, but he was still in rough shape. Rust sent arrow after arrow at the beast, finding soft spots in the shell of its body. The beast howled in anger as waves of fire from Ben and Hot’man rushed over it. Suddenly, it began to burrow at an alarming rate, and within seconds emerged behind the party, near Tallguy. Tallguy quickly raised his shield to block the creature’s onslaught, but one of the pincers caught him in the leg. He dragged himself away as Rusty leaped upon the beast and began to drive his sword into the soft parts of its skin. The battle went on for what seemed an eternity, with Hot’man and Tallguy barely clinging to life as the beast relentlessly assaulted them. Finally, Tallguy and Rusty found their chance. Tallguy cracked the beasts natural armor with a mighty swing of his axe as Rusty sunk an arrow into the monster’s eye. It fell to the ground with a shattering screech, before finally falling still. The party sunk down against the walls, and only the sound of their breathing and groans filled the cave.