Checking Out of Feathergale Spire
Naïru (Niavara) tells Thurl that her and her companions would love to meet his queen. Thurl explains that he will need to write to her to determine possibility and details. He once again tells Naïru that he believes their chance encounter to be very auspicious. He believes the fates have brought Naïru to the Feathergale Society, and that their order could enrich and fulfil her life. He suggests that she can find a place where she can finally fit in and belong, and that the path to exacting vengeance on her mother’s killer is through the truly destructive nature of the wind that the Feathergale Society reveres.
Naïru asks about the earth cult’s leadership. In addition to mentioning Miraj Visann again, Thurl mentions that the Sacred Stone Monastery is headed by an abbess by the name of Hellenrae. Miraj outranks Hellenrae, but she does not report to him. Thurl says that the earth cultists defile the earth by reshaping the natural order of the lands. When asked about the fire and water cults, Thurl says he’s aware of worshipers of other elements, but that his primary concern is with the hatred that is the earth cult.
The next morning, Naïru wakes to find Thurl fully dressed at his desk writing a letter. When asked, Thurl says he is writing to his queen to inform her of discovering Naivara and to inquire about a possible meeting and details. At breakfast, two men that Orlav recognizes as Fremont Talaudrym’s killers enter the spire great hall. Thurl passes off his letter to them, and before they take their leave with their breakfast, one of them makes brief eye contact with Orlav, before nudging the other and whispering something. Orlav leans into nearby Shump, Ka, and Rowan and confirms they have his back. Orlav leans back in his chair and swallows a croissant whole while maintaining his gaze at the knights. However, they leave without starting anything.
Ka asks about the spire and their visitor policy, and Savra says that while they maintain caution with strangers, visitors are more than welcome. Thurl continues to say that they are welcome to stay as long as they want, but inquires about their plans, offering airlifts to their next destination. The group proposes heading to the Sacred Stone Monastery, and Naivarra asks Thurl about the monastery and any secret entrances. He tells the group he isn’t aware of any secret entrances, but their monastery is a front for their cult, and as such, while they keep a low profile, they wouldn’t be openly aggressive to strangers that stumble up to their front door. In addition, he mentions that the monks inside the monastery all wear robes and gargoyle masks.
Setting out for the Sacred Stone Monastery, the group is trudging along through the barren countryside when they hear a low, distant rumbling. A moment later, the ground beneath their feet begins shaking. The tremor is strong enough to start small slides of pebbles from the hillsides and cause shrubs and brush to wave from side to side, but then it subsides. A moment later, horrible insect-like creatures as big as horses begin to burrow out of the ground!
Three ankhegs spring out of the ground, surrounding the group. Naïru is first to react, mystically marking the ankheg in front of the group as her quarry, before striking a massive blow with an arrow in its belly. Orlav runs forward to land his warhammer, but is unable to get past its swatting legs and mandibles. However, Ka uses the opportunity to sneak a second, fatal arrow in its underside. Shump turns around and smites the second ankheg with a thunderous blow from his scimitar, knocking it over. The ankheg immediately recovers to its feet and fails to bite into Shump. The third ankheg bites and grapples Rowan, who responds with two charges of her wand of magic missiles.
Naïru moves to marking Rowan’s grappler, then lands a critically fatal arrow into its head, releasing Rowan. Orlav descends on the last ankheg with is warhammer, but again fails to get past its tough shell. Ka has the same trouble with her arrow. Shump drops his shield and pulls his second scimitar, and taking two swings, lands with the off-hand. The ankheg once again tries to bite Shump but fails to get through his split mail. Rowan hurls a mote of fire near the ankheg, barely misses Shump and Orlav. Naïru marks the last ankheg as her quarry before landing an arrow in its belly. Orlav also lands a massive warhammer blow, this time breaking through its defenses. Ka sneaks in the last fatal blow with her bow.
Traveling onward, on a barren hilltop a few miles from the monastery, the group finds four shallow graves. The earth scraped out for the holes is piled nearby, although hastily gathered stones cover the graves. The group excavates the graves, as the faint smell of death hangs in the air. Inside, the party finds one male dwarf dressed in artisan robes, one female human warrior dressed in a black surcoat with a red axe (the symbol of Mirabar’s army), one male human warrior dressed in a black cloak with strange stony armor, and one male human in a white robe with black feathers at the shoulders. All died from arrow wounds or crushing blows. Searching around, Shump finds a confused collection of tracks, a few broken arrows, a discarded javelin, and a tattered gray cloak. Naïru reburies the bodies as Orlav performs funeral rights, despite Ka’s insistence to burn the bodies.
Sacred Stone Monastery
The few tracks that do leave the shallow graves return to the path toward the monastery. Eventually, the tracks and the group comes up on the supposed monastery entrance into the hills where the narrow trail leads into an ever-narrowing defile between bluffs of wind-sculpted sandstone. Shump insists on scouting the area for ambushes. After an hour circling the cliffs and hillside, the group circles back on the same spot without spotting any additional entrances into the hill. Shump and Orlav decide to climb the cliffside, where from the top of the hill, Shump is finally satisfied there’s nobody trying to ambush the group.
A trail leads into an ever-narrowing defile between bluffs of wind-sculpted sandstone. Eventually the walls draw in so closely that you can reach out and touch either side, but then the narrow space opens into a hidden canyon in the heart of the hills. A sprawling monastery with dark, narrow windows and red tile rooftops stands in the middle of this natural amphitheater, ringed by sandstone cliffs all around. Ahead, a weathered flight of stone steps leads up to the closed monastery doors. The plain doors are made of heavy timber with iron studs. A dusty footpath circles the building.
Audience with Qarbo
A small panel in the monastery’s front door slides open, and someone wearing a golden mask peers out. The mask is fashioned in the shape of a scowling gargoyle, but the hand that opened the panel seems human enough. From beneath the mask comes a female voice: “Yes? What do you want?” Orlav responds, “We seek enlightenment.” The monk tells the group they won’t find it at the monastery and to go away. Trying a different approach, Orlav says the group has an urgent warning about the air cult, and the monk demands details before letting the group in. She seems confused when Orlav mentions the queen of the Feathergale Society, stating they aren’t aware of any queen. When Orlav mentions the air cult is planning to assassinate Miraj Visann, the monks share furtive glances. Claiming they don’t know of any Miraj Visann, the monks still allow the party to enter and have an audience with their priest, Qarbo.
The monk leads the group through the front halls of the monastery, passing several doors leading to other rooms, before entering the inner courtyard, where to the north stands the main temple or shrine of the monastery, its copper-sheathed doors emblazoned with the earth cult symbol. Gargoyle statues guard the door, each facing the court with a ferocious leer. Through the doors into the shrine, four large columns of natural rock dominate the room. A wide set of steps descends into darkness in the center of the room, in front of a slab-like stone altar. Above the altar, a the earth cult symbol has been chiseled into the heavy stone blocks of the wall. Behind the alter stands a priest with stony vestments, and on each side stand two guards with stony armor.
The priest Qarbo is surprised by the sight of strangers and immediately questions the monk on the meaning of the disturbance. The monk says the group has information on an air cult plot to assassinate Miraj Visann. The group approaches the alter, as Orlav takes the lead and spins his tale. He tells Qarbo that he and his group were in Red Larch where a sinkhole opened and swallowed a group of adventurers who ended up battling powerful worshippers of the earth. Awed by the power of the earth, they sought out such enlightened power, learning both of the Sacred Stone Monastery and their sworn enemies, the air cult. During their search for the earth cult, the group’s air genasi was able to infiltrate the Feathergale Society who confided in her their plans to eliminate Miraj Visann.
Battling in the Shrine of Stone
Just as Orlav is winding down his tale, Orlav signals Ka to attack and get the jump on the priest. Unfortunately, in her haste to whip out her bow and sneak an arrow into the priest, her bowstring breaks. In parallel, Naïru mystically marks Qarbo as her quarry, then runs around the east pillars towards the side of the altar and puts an arrow into the priest. Both of the guards circle around to meet Naïru, landing three blows against her. Qarbo casts a spell with a wry smile on his face, before turning around and running up the wall and onto the ceiling. Shump runs around the west pillars to the alter beneath Qarbo and magically attempts to compel the priest to dual, but he resists. Ka sneaks an arrow into one of the stone guards, then ducks behind a pillar to hide from the priest.
The monk escort from the back of the room runs up behind Ka and strikes with her open hands. Orlav runs up next to Naïru and emits a thunderous wave that sweeps out at the stone guards. Both are hit by the blow but stand their ground as the thunderous boom emanates through the whole monastery. Orlav also conjures a shimmering field around Naïru. Rowan flings twin shards of ice at Qarbo, one of which nearly strikes, but the priest throws his hand up as the shard explodes against a magical barrier. However, both shards explode, and Qarbo is struck by shattered ice.
Meanwhile, Naïru moves her hunter’s mark to one of the stone guards, then slashes each guard with her shortsword. The marked guard retaliates and drops Naïru with a critical blow from his morningstar. The other guard lands two blows on Orlav, one with critical force. Qarbo evokes a painfully loud ringing around Shump, who manages to stand strong against most of the thunderous force. Shump runs over to join Orlav against the guards, landing a thunderous smite with his scimitar, as another massive boom emanates through the monastery. Orlav conjures a floating, spectral warhammer, swinging it and his actual warhammer against the guards, who stave off the attacks. Ka slashes the monk with reszur, who strikes back again with another open hand. Rowan emanates a line of roaring flame that strikes Qarbo head on.
As Naïru begins to bleed out, the stone guards split up between Orlav and Shump, landing two blows each. Qarbo runs down a pillar back to the shrine floor, and attempts to slow Shump, Orlav, and Rowan’s time. Shump and Orlav resist the effects, but Rowan is slowed. She begins to evoke another roaring line of fire in retaliation. Shump retaliates with scimitars but can’t break the stone guard armor. Orlav also has difficulty with his warhammer, but his spiritual weapon lands a blow. Meanwhile, Ka pulls a scimitar and strikes the monk, but misses with reszur. Again, the monk lands a blow with her open hand.
The two guards continue to assault Shump and Orlav, as Naïru gets closer to stabilizing at their feet. Orlav dodges both morningstar swings, but Shump’s assailant lands once against him. Shump’s two scimitars and Orlav’s spectral warhammer fail to retaliate, but Orlav is able to reach down and magically cure Naïru’s wounds. Ka finishes off the monk with her scimitar, then runs over to Qarbo who dodges out of the way of reszur. Rowan’s evocation slowly finishes, as another line of fire lashes out at Qarbo. Naïru jumps to her feet with both her shortswords in swing, lashing out and dropping one of the stone guards, and nearly finishing the other, who fails to land any retaliating morningstar swings.
Qarbo takes advantage of the confusion, conjuring another loud, intense ringing that sacrifices his remaining stone guard and drops both Naïru and Orlav. Seeing this, Shump runs over and lays his healing hands on Orlav to bring him immediately back to consciousness. Orlav sees Naïru next to him on the ground, and again cures her wounds. He stands again and conjures another spiritual warhammer, striking the priest. Taking advantage, Ka sneaks reszur into Qarbo’s side, and Rowan blasts again with another line of fire. While Qarbo is barely standing, he manages to dodge Naïru’s arrow. The priest evokes one more shattering, intense ringing on Shump, Naïru, and Orlav. Orlav is badly hurt, but standing. Naïru drops again. Shump nearly drops, but his relentless endurance keeps him on his feet. He staggers over to the priest and finishes him with his scimitar. Acting fast, Orlav feeds Naïru a healing potion to bring her back to consciousness, as Ka tells Shump to revive the priest and use him as a hostage.
As the sounds of combat recede, the group hears yelling from outside the shrine as a half dozen monks each pour through the east and west doors. Another monk enters from the southern exit. Rowan runs towards the single monk and prepares to spray them with poison, but Naïru casts levitate on the monk who unwillingly floats to the ceiling. Shump picks up the earth priest and holds a scimitar to his neck, shouting for everyone to stay back or he’ll kill Qarbo. A female voice to the east from just outside the shrine room commands the monks to ignore the air cultists and attack. At this, Rowan pulls a magical scroll and conjures a wall of water to slow the monks as the group runs out the south exit.
Escaping the Monastery
As Shump falls behind the rest of the party, the paladin turns towards his pursuers to use Qarbo as a human shield. Having caught up, the monks have a difficult time swatting past the priest’s body with their unarmed strikes and making any dents in Shump’s splint armor. Realizing the monks will overpower him any second, Shump is just about to drop the earth priest and run, when Qarbo suddenly stirs. There’s a moments pause as the priest locks eyes with the closest monk, then Qarbo lifts his arms towards the monks and mutters a few arcane words. Suddenly, the stone beneath the monks’ feet begins to shake with tremors, as the stone slabs crack, twist, and deform, knocking several monks down. Qarbo turns towards Shump and says “Get me the fuck out of here.”
As the two run, Qarbo continues to throw down several more earth tremors, leaving a difficult path of rocky stone terrain that slows the monks’ advancements. As Shump and Qarbo exit the monastery, the priest slams the door shut. The priest reaches out his arms towards the dirt path beneath the monastery stairs and lifts his hands. A large mound of dirt excavates from the earth as Qarbo guides it up the stairs and lowers it in front of the monastery doors, blocking the monk’s exit. Shouts from inside yell, “They’ve blocked the front doors, get to the side entrance!” The group continues to run from the monastery to the narrow defile between the cliff walls. Upon entering the passage, Qarbo triggers a cave in to prevent pursuit.
When asked why he helped the group, Qarbo explains that he was as good as dead. The Abbess of the monastery, Hellenrae, detests weakness in any form and would have killed him for his failure. Qarbo always resented Hellenrae’s higher position within the Black Earth Cult, as he believes the priests are the true believers and more worthy, and he’s pleased to know that allowing air cultists to attack the monastery and escape will look very bad for her. He only asks in return that the group spare him his life and allow him to go free.