Qarbo tells the group that it will take Hellenrae time to get another priest up from the temple to move the fallen boulders. Ka inquires further about Hellenrae’s relations with the Black Earth priests, and Qarbo clarifies that Hellenrae and her monks are still believers, but in his opinion, the priests are the most worthy and should (but don’t) outrank Hellenrae. When Ka asks about the distinctions between the priests and the monks, Qarbo grows suspicious as he says that surely they have a similar structure in the air cult. Looking back and forth at Ka and Naïru, he asks Ka why a tiefling is helping an air cultist. Ka tells Qarbo that the fire cult burned her village, killing her parents, and she found vengeful enlightenment in the air cult. Turning to Orlav and Shump, Qarbo’s suspicions grow as he studies their religious symbols. After further questioning, Qarbo realizes they aren’t cultists but in fact simply adventurers.
The group then proposes an alliance with Qarbo, offering to help take down Hellenrae so he can take her place in the cult’s ranks. Qarbo says that while he may not have been willing to die for Hellenrae, his loyalties are still to Ogrémoch and the black earth cult. However, as a sign of good faith, Qarbo offers to repair Ka’s longbow with a spell. When asked about the Mirabar delegation, Qarbo openly admits that the Black Earth cult attacked the delegation on the Dessarin Road. They took several prisoners and paid the Crushing Wave cult to ferry them across the river. On their way back to their monastery, they were attacked by air cultists who managed to capture a few of the delegation prisoners for themselves.
When asked why they attacked the delegation, Qarbo says with a wry smile, “there is power in knowledge.” His smile deepens as he tells the group that most of the captives are in prison cells in the tunnels beneath the monastery, while a special few are being kept in a strongly locked room in the eastern halls of the monastery’s surface level. When asked for the hand sign with which the earth cultists identify each other, Qarbo makes a triangle by touching the knuckles of his bent thumbs as well as the forefingers of both his hands together. When asked about the weather, Qarbo says the forces of elemental air, water, and fire are fighting each other for control over the climate. When asked about the other cults, Qarbo says the air cultists are mercurial, unreliable, and generally out of touch with reality. The earth cultists respect the strength and ferocity of the Eternal Flame followers, but also find them maddeningly inconstant. Black Earth cultists ally most often with the Crushing Wave, since they admire the patience and pragmatism of the water cultists.
Suddenly, the group hears screeching from the direction of the monastery. Qarbo perks up and yells, “Gargoyles!” Orlav jumps up, ties Qarbo’s hands together, and drags him behind as the group runs out of the hidden valley. Naïru’s sense of direction tells her they’re not far from Rivergard Keep where the Knights of Samular are holding fort. Halfway there, however, the gargoyles catch up to the group. As the gang stands their ground and attempts to fight, the gargoyles take a few blows as they focus solely on Qarbo, whose hands are still tied. Within seconds, they kill the priest for good, before taking off again in the night sky.
Revisiting the Water Cult
Once at Rivergard, Markus welcomes the group back and offers what minimal comforts the stronghold offers, including food served by the three Womford Wannabes. Markus shares that his order has done their best to keep the water cult at bay. In the six days since they took the keep, the water cult has made several attacks. The attacks have varied greatly, some from the underground stream, some the river, and some from outside the walls. Their attacks have varied between several times per day to no sightings at all, while always keeping the knights guessing. Their attacks are consistently brief, attacking then retreating, attacking then retreating, like the ebb and flow of water. The group decides it might be time to revisit the water cult and hunt down Jolliver.
Over dinner, Orlav informs the group he recognized the name Ogrémoch as an evil elemental deity of sorts known as the “Prince of Evil Earth.” Naïru has a recollection that in tracking her Black Earth genasi over the years, she once had a lead connecting a black genasi to the “Princess of Evil Water,” which she realizes is why the name Olhydra was so familiar to her. She dismissed it as a bad lead so many years ago because the connection of the two seemed unlikely at the time. Shump points out that combining earth and water results in mud.
The Dark Stream
The next morning, the group heads down the secret passage to the underground stream. There they find the single rowboat and take it west into the darkness. About a mile in, the group is surprised as two piercers drop from the ceiling. One misses Shump and slams into the boat floor, while the other manages to pierce Orlav with its mandibles. Startled, Rowan hurls a fire bolt into the piercer on Orlav, Shump slashes it with one of his scimitars, and Naïru takes it down with her shortsword. Ka single-handedly kills the other before kicking it out of the boat.
Continuing on, the group eventually begins to see the end to the dark stream’s tunnel as firelight up ahead shines from a large cavern. Orlav stops to perform a ritual, bestowing the ability to walk on water to everyone in the party. Carrying on, the stream opens into a large underground lake. To the left, the lake stretches into darkness. To the right, a crumbling stone quay leads to a tunnel. A ten-foot skiff is moored to the quay, and a torch burns in a bronze sconce by the tunnel mouth. Beside the quay, a twenty-foot wide canal leads north from the large lake. However, upon the quay are six cultists. Four are clearly typical reavers, one has serpent tattoos, and the last cultist wields a lance. Seeing the group’s boat, the leader says “Ahh, we’ve been waiting for you for some time to finally show up down here” as everyone draws weapons.
Quarrel on the Quay
Naïru is the first to react, nocking an arrow and uttering a quick word, before releasing the arrow along with a rain of thorns from her bow, hitting two reavers and the serpentine cultist. Ka finishes off one of the reavers with an arrow to the jugular. The lanced cultist whistles and runs to the water as he’s greeted by and mounts a shark. He greets the boat and from a bit of a distance thrusts his lance but only hits Shump’s shield. The serpent cultist pours a cup of water over herself that turns to ice. The four reavers all throw javelins, one of which hits Orlav. Rowan hurls a fire bolt at the serpent cultist, barely missing. Orlav dragonborn-Jesuses across the water toward the quay, then evokes flame-like radiance on a reaver, but she dodges away. Shump steps out of the boat onto the water’s surface and engages the shark knight, landing one of his two scimitar strikes.
Naïru fires two arrows at the serpent cultist. The first misses, but the second breaks the majority of her icy armor. Ka surprises the knight by also running out onto the water’s surface. She lands a blow with reszur but is unable to land her other dagger. The knight attempts to hit Ka and then Shump with his lance, but he has difficulty landing the long weapon at such close range. The serpent cultist unleashes two beams of crackling energy at Naïru, one of which hits. The three reavers all throw javelins, two of which hit Orlav and one hits Rowan. Rowan hurls a mote of fire at the serpent cultist, burning through the rest of her icy armor. Orlav exhales lightning on the two reavers in front of him. Shump lands another scimitar on the knight.
Naïru unleashes successive arrows, hitting the serpent cultist and two reavers. Ka uses this moment to finish the knight with reszur, before running across the water and surprising a reaver with a lethal blow. The serpent cultist hits Shump with two blasts of crackling energy. The two remaining reavers fail to land blows against Orlav, just as one dodges a blow from his warhammer. Rowan hits the serpent cultist with a fire bolt. Shump drops his shield, drawing his second scimitar, but only lands a single blow against a reaver. Naïru pulls three arrows and successively finishes off all three remaining cultists. As things settle, Naïru’s uses her primeval awareness to communicate with the shark. She determines the shark had a magical bond between it and its master.