Once outside the monastery, four of the prisoners take off into the surrounding hills without much in the way of thanks or farewells. Based on their tattoos, Naïru identifies them as uthgardt tribesfolk and assumes they preferred to fend for themselves. The uthgardt are barbarian humans who have roved the North for over a thousand years, holding to ancient customs of ritual and taboo. They are notorious for their hatred of magic, disavowal of any gods but their own, and hostility to anyone not of their tribes. After the group finds a spot to rest and regroup, Orlav conjures 45 pounds of bland but nourishing food and 30 gallons of clean water to feed the remaining commoners. For most of the rescued prisoners, their story is the same. Raiders wearing brown cowls or hoods swept into their respective towns or villages and carried them back to servitude in the mines beneath the monastery.
The Sage Bruldenthar’s Research
Bruldenthar’s story confirms what the group has been able to piece together over the past couple tendays. The Black Earth attacked the delegation south of Beliard, and the majority of the guards didn’t make it. Those of the delegation that surrendered in the end were ferried by pirates across the river. The pirates were given his books and journals as payment. Bandits flying giant vultures ambushed the earth cultists somewhere in the Sumber Hills. Bruldenthar adds to the story that the flying bandits managed to capture Deseyna Norvael, the human noble from Waterdeep. The rest were brought to the monastery and put to work in the mines. Teresiel, the moon elf from Silverymoon, and Rhundorth, the shield dwarf from Mirabar, were brought below.
The Dwarven Kingdom of Besilmer
Bruldenthar is grateful when Orlav returns his history books, but admittedly wishes the group had recovered his journals instead, which have valuable information in them. Bruldenthar has spent much of his life studying the dwarven history in the sumber hills, which was once the site of the great shield dwarf kingdom of Besilmer, which was founded nearly six thousand years ago in -4420 DR. Its existence is so far back in the mists of history that only a handful of non-dwarf sages have even heard of it. The realm of Besilmer was something rare: a dwarven kingdom built on the surface, with its strength measured in fields and pastures. It prospered for a time but was plagued by trolls and giants. The dwarves were obliged to build a stronghold underground, carving out the fortress-city of Tyar-Besil a century after Besilmer’s founding. Unfortunately for the dwarves, the realm collapsed after its king and founder, Torhild Flametongue, died in battle.
The Underground Stronghold of Tyar-Besil
The southwest quarter of ancient Tyar-Besil was where the dwarves built a palace in a vast cavern upon the edge of a great chasm. Where the cavern’s glittering, mineral-encrusted ceiling rose high, the dwarves constructed spacious plazas in which they carved towering statues, elaborate pillars, and enormous monuments. They worked the natural stone of the cavern and carved barracks and other living quarters into the rock, connecting them via lamplit passageways. Though it was a fortress, some commerce and art was present, with a rudimentary bazaar and dwarven skalds filling the air with chanted verse. With the aid of a friendly djinni, the dwarves constructed a pyramid-shaped palace at the center of the cavern, surrounded by a moat fed by an underground stream. Dwarven innovation provided the cavern with light, fresh water, and sewage disposal.
Long ago, the southeast quarter of ancient Tyar-Besil contained storehouses. The dark stream provided a safe, navigable waterway linking the stronghold with the Dessarin River and the surface dominions of the realm.
Long ago, the northeast quarter of the dwarven ruins served as Tyar-Besil’s main entrance, a well-fortified gate complex with barracks, guardrooms, armories, and stables. Enemies that managed to fight their way down the Ancient Stair from the surface above were stopped in their tracks by the daunting defenses of the gate quarter. More than one reckless attack by orcs, trolls, or giants was driven back from the gate. In time, those savage foes found other ways to attack the dwarves of the Sumber Hills, and the stronghold was finally abandoned.
During the height of ancient Tyar-Besil, the northwest quarter of the ancient dwarven fortress served as its manufacturing center, where great forges and foundries butted up against all the natural resources necessary to craft weapons and armor both beautiful and deadly. Lava from the volcanic rock below provided heat and material, and where the lava had flowed and then sank away again, rich veins of ore and gems were left behind in the natural tubes for the dwarves to discover and mine. For many centuries, the dwarves beneath the Sumber Hills forged weapons, hardware, and magnificent treasures. The best of these they kept for themselves. The rest traveled to the surface world, where merchants carried the dwarves’ work far afield. In time, as the city was abandoned, the forges grew quiet, the foundries cooled, and the dwarven masters left their workbenches to darkness and departed to other realms.
The group recalls the air cultist captured in the water temple provided details connecting the history of Tyar-Besil to the present day cult operations in the region. When asked about the cults, Bruldenthar adds that in his research, he found mention of the dwarves “delving too deep” and potentially uncovering evils that may be drawing the cults to the Sumber Hills. When Shump asks about an ancient weapon named Ironfang, Bruldenthar is unfamiliar but in terms of ancient weapons, he mentions that much of his research was focused on finding Torhild Flametongue’s final resting place, rumored to house his legendary greataxe, Orcsplitter. The group makes the case for sending Bruldenthar and the rest of the freed captives on their own to Summit Hall. Bruldenthar pleads for escort and promises that he and the Harpers can make it worth their while. Not wishing to abandon Jolliver’s tracks, the group offers to escort the commoners wherever the path leads them, and Bruldenthar agrees.
As the group heads north, Naïru spots lots of tracks, but only one set of boar tracks. It is easy to distinguish them at first, until not more than a mile around the hillside she finds the tracks transition from quadruped to biped, and then from boar to humanoid. Naïru retains focus on Jolliver’s footsteps amidst the noisy scores of humanoid footprints, following along the path towards the river. Shortly after, she spots a collection of humanoid footprints following the same path. Every few hundred feet, the tracks are interrupted by a box-like imprint in the ground. The group deduces that the cultists are carrying another water bomb. These tracks and Jolliver’s lead to the river where gouges in the river bank betray the mooring of keelboats.
Originally assuming Summit Hall to be the target for the attack, Naïru discerns that the keelboats embarked as though headed north, which Orlav believes makes Beliard the most likely destination. Orlav performs a ritual and grants the ability for everyone to walk on water and cross the Dessarin River. On the other side of the river, it is noticeably windier, and following the riverfront, the group comes to some foliage that has cleverly concealed two keelboats with a group of humanoid tracks leading east. Following the trail straight east, near the Dessarin Road, the tracks trail off behind a cluster of trees, where the humanoid footprints end and wagon wheel tracks begin. The wagon tracks lead up to the road and turn onto the ruts of the path headed north toward Beliard, where storm clouds appear to be rolling in.
Back in Beliard
Once to Beliard, the gang is relieved to see the town entirely intact. The group returns to the local inn, The Watchful Knight. Orlav waves his hand as the door to the inn flies open in front of his stride. The dragonborn’s silhouette begins to glow as he steps over the threshold and bellows, “Jolliver!” with his voice amplified by divine energy. Shump, scanning for reactions, notices a man betray him and his four companions from a table in the corner of the room. Shump heads towards the table and kicks out the nearest occupant’s chair. The group of three women and two men all draw stand to arms, drawing hidden sharktoothed weaponry.
Naïru reacts first, jumping with air elemental grace up onto the nearest table, marking a reaver as her quarry and unleashing two fatal arrows that pins his lifeless body against the wall. One reaver trips trying to simultaneously draw his longsword and get out of his chair. The other three split up between Shump, Orlav, and Ka. Only Ka’s assailant lands her blow, which may have been a massive strike if not for Ka’s uncanny dodging. Orlav lands his warhammer on his opponent. Ka retaliates against her attacker, putting a knife through he jugular, but the woman barely stands. Shump lands a blow against his assailant then turns and strikes down Ka’s, stealing the rogue’s kill. Rowan hurls in a mote of fire, but the reaver dodges.
Naïru jumps off the table, and with the blunt side of her sword, knocks out the prone reaver with two blows to the back of the head. The two remaining reavers both fail to land blows against Shump or Orlav. Orlav pivots and breathes a line of lightning through both reavers and Naïru. All three dodge most of the energy but are still knocked back ten feet. Ka strikes down Orlav’s assailant with reszur and pivots and hits the last reaver with Wally in her off-hand. Shump finishes off the reaver with two blows from Delilah.
The Final Jolliver Showdown
Just as Ka finishes scavenging the fallen reavers, someone shouts from outside, “Hey, stop that!” A moment later voices break into a low, strange chanting. When the party investigate, they see strangely dressed people stand in the street. Two look like water priests in seaweed robes and chant as six reavers open a large box engraved with the recurring fire elemental symbol. Inside, a levitating orb of water pulses as a miniature scale storm brews inside. The group spots Jolliver standing atop the nearest stockyard cattle ramp in his hybrid wereboar form.
Naïru, as always, is first to react. She marks Jolliver as her quarry before unleashing two arrows from her longbow that, despite the extremely heavy winds, make their target. However, while the arrows fail to pierce his magical hide, something in her mystical hunter’s mark still strikes him true. In response, Jolliver jumps off the top of the cattle ramp and charges at Naïru with his tusks, but the ranger dodges out of the way. Jolliver swings a sharktoothed longsword as well, striking Naïru. Shump runs in next, uttering a vow of enmity against Jolliver and throwing two javelins at a priest, the first of which is blown off course, but the second pierces the priest. Ka dashes in at Jolliver and lands a massive blow with Wally. The priests conjure freezing rain and sleet blinding the adventurers and covering the ground in slick ice.
Rowan keeps her footing as she steps forward, points her fingers in the blinding sleet roughly towards the center of the cultists, and evokes a bright streak that blossoms into an explosion of flame. The priests lose their concentration maintaining the sleet storm, and two reavers drop completely, while the rest look very badly burned. The orb of water pulses for a second in response to the explosion then detonates, expanding into a torrential storm in every direction within a mile radius. A streak of lightning strikes down at Ka, but the rogue partially dodges the blunt of the energy.
Orlav channels Istishia’s divine energy while taking control of the storm, unleashing his own lightning bolt that strikes down three reavers with maximum energy. The nearby well floods with gushing water. Naïru puts three silvered scimitar slashes in Jolliver, who responds in kind piercing a huge blow with his tusks. Shump steps in and lands two smiting strikes on Jolliver, empowering Delilah with radiant energy. In the confusion, Ka steps up behind Jolliver and slits his throat with reszur.
Containing the Floods
The two priests and remaining reaver begin to run. Rowan pulls her wand of magic missiles and using all but its last charge, brings down the reaver and one of the priests with darts of magical force. Meanwhile, another bolt of lightning strikes down from the storm hitting Orlav, but the bronze dragonborn absorbs most of the energy. He then calls his own lightning strike to bring down the other fleeing priest. Seconds after collecting themselves, the gushing wave of well water crushes into the group, but all hold their ground. In the distance, the town pond floods as well with unnatural and rapid ferocity. Orlav enchants and amplifies his voice to announce to Beliard, “Get to high ground!”
As the group runs back to the Watchful Knight, Orlav flails his arms left and right calling down bolts of lightning as he cackles. Inside the inn, water pours in through the door and crashes in through the glass windows. Writing off the unconscious reaver in the corner as a lost cause, everyone rushes upstairs. Orlav takes his time and rides the surface of the rising wave as it floods and lifts him up the stairs. As the second floor begins to flood and things look dire, Orlav sits with cross legs and begins to meditate. Reaching out in prayer and pleading to Istishia for divine intervention, the cleric’s call is answered as the winds and rains cease and the flooding waters calm.
As the group turns in for the night, Orlav inspects Naïru’s wounds to find the festering signs of the lycanthropy curse. At his touch and incantation, the curse is lifted. In the morning, all the waters have receded leaving the town of Beliard battered and half destroyed. The lands are swampy, the airs reek, and drowned villagers and livestock are scattered along the streets. Ka uses a bottle of Sacred Stone Brandy to burn Jolliver’s body. Orlav spends the morning offering healing, conjuring food and water, and otherwise tending to the downtrodden, before cooking up a hearty and healthful brunch for the group. On their way out of town, Bruldenthar thanks the adventurers and promises that he and the Harpers will be in touch.
The group recalls being attacked in Red Larch by hell hounds marked by the fire cult symbol. Rumors in Red Larch placed an Amnian merchant whose goods were marked by the symbol heading to a big gathering of druids hoping to sell kegs of beer and various trinkets at a place called Scarlet Moon Hall. Traveling most of the day, the gang reaches the gathering by nightfall where smoky haze covers a large hill. Visible through the haze that covers the hill is a square tower ringed by ruined walls. In front of the tower burns a bonfire shaped like a fiery giant. Scattered on the slope below the tower are seven bonfires with tents clustered around them. Humanoid figures huddle near these closer fires. A trail leads up to the hillside encampments.
Under the guise of a traveling craft goods company named Fire & Flame, with Rowan as head leatherworker and Ka head jeweler, the group approaches the first encampment. Four robed humans—two male, two female—chant as they stand around a bonfire while two massive elk chew the grass nearby. The druids are clearly under the influence and welcome the party to their camp. They turn down any craft goods in a symbolic protest against corporate greed, then mention they’re really looking forward to the Rite of the Wicker Giant and hope it leads to greater cooperation among the druids of the Dessarin Valley. They offer the characters food and drink, including a few sips from a small cask of excellent, unique brandy.
Shump pulls out his small, enchanted stone that is always warm to the touch, with a hole in it that when placed near your ear can hear the constant crackling of a wood fire. In response, one of the druids exclaims “elemental, man” and opens a small wooden box with two scrolls inside. He gives Shump one of the scrolls, which nobody recognizes. When asked about the other, he says if one is fire than the other is air. Orlav conjures a tiny puff of wind, and the druid says “Oh, you know this spell.” He gifts Orlav the spell scroll, which Orlav and Rowan recognize as the Gust of Wind spell.
Investigating up the Hill
The druids encourage the group to spend the night and witness the rite, which should occur tomorrow. A further line of questioning reveals that word has spread throughout the Dessarin Valley that an obscure and unfamiliar druid circle called the Circle of the Scarlet Moon knows the Rite of the Wicker Giant, a ritual that can restore nature’s balance in the troubled region. Led by Elizar Dryflagon, the Circle of the Scarlet Moon are promising to teach others the rite as it’s performed. Several groups have set up camps on the slopes below Scarlet Moon Hall, waiting for Elizar to invite them up to partake in the rite. Everyone is excited to meet their fellows and learn from the mysterious but powerful Elizar.
Heading up the hill, at the next camp, two rugged humans sit near a large bonfire. They are sparsely dressed and very hairy. They briefly nod in disinterest. Rowan gives them a smile and mentions lambskin goods. The two men give creepy smiles and animalistic grunts. The group carries on to the top of the hill. Beyond the ruins of walls ringing the keep’s central tower is a courtyard cluttered with tents. A humanoid-shaped wicker giant, two stories tall, burns brightly here. Two figures in robes stand near the wicker giant, their heads lowered in prayer.
The tower is under repair, with wooden scaffolding some thirty feet high stretching across the east and west sides. Lanterns hang from struts and poles attached to the woodworks. Two guards with crossbows watch the courtyard from the scaffolding to the west. Rubble chokes a wide doorway, likely once the main entrance, on the tower’s south side. As the group approaches, the two robed figures shout that the ritual is not ready yet and nobody is allowed in the courtyard without invitation.
The group decides to venture back down the hill and further explore the festival and to gather information. The group returns to the two hairy men who say the females can stay and hang but Shump and Orlav have to take off. Orlav offers some Red Larch crumble cake to the two hairy men, one of whom really enjoys a bite but still tells them to leave. When asked about places to sleep, the men tell Shump and Orlav to try to the fiddle player on the west side of the hill. Naïru’s interest is piqued and suggests sticking together as a group.