Dramatis Personae: Calla, Gil, Keth, Sorrel
Source: “Feathergale Spire” (Princes of the Apocalypse)
A shepherd by the name of Larmon Greenboot, known to frequent Lao Chen’s shop in Larchwood, had reported finding some freshly dug graves on a hill east of the town, near where he grazed his sheep. He took the heroes to go check it out. As they began to exhume the bodies, Larmon warned them not to anger the Stranger (the aspect of death worshipped by the Andarians) and cautiously retreated down the hill. In response, Keth mumbled a prayer to the Raven Queen, the Stranger’s counterpart from the Old Faith, and continued with the grim work.
What our protagonists found were the bodies of a well-dressed dwarf artisan and his female human bodyguard, plus the body of a human dressed in stony armor that conjured up memories of Larrakh, the stone priest who had been corrupting Larchwood’s town elders. Lastly, there was an emaciated man in white robes with a feathery mantle. An examination of the body revealed that the man in stony armor had been slain by arrows, whereas the man in the white robes had been hit with something blunt but hard, as had the dwarf and his guard.
Taking advantage of their vantage point atop the hill, the heroes noticed a tall, thin spire rising up from the hills to the north. They could see what appeared to be some rather large birds (judging from their size from such a distance) circling it. They were curious, as they’d never noticed the tower before, so they set out to see if anyone was living there. If so, perhaps they might have seen something that would provide some clues about the dead on the hill.
After about two hours, they came to the bottom of a wide, gusty canyon through which a small river wound its way south. The tower rose up from a rocky promontory at the far end of the canyon. Deciding that the canyon looked a bit difficult to navigate, our protagonists found a way up onto the western lip and proceeded along the relatively flatter ground. As they made their way along, one of the giant birds swooped towards them, and they could see it was a massive vulture with a human riding on its back! The man gave them a wave as he passed overhead. They waved back, and the man directed his mount back to the tower.
The Feathergale Society
They soon came across a path that led to a point directly opposite the tower’s raised drawbridge. A bell on a post stood nearby. When they rang it, a small window to one side of the drawbridge was opened, and a woman leaned out, courteously inquiring as to their business. The heroes replied that they were conducting an investigation of sorts and were hoping that the occupants of the tower might be able to help.
Much to the heroes’ delight and relief, their answer proved sufficient, for almost immediately the drawbridge lowered, revealing a set of double doors that opened once the bridge was completely down. Through the doors came the woman they’d just spoken with. She was dressed in a uniform of sorts, consisting of scale armor with blue and grey trimmings. Walking a little way out onto the drawbridge, she introduced herself as Savra Belabranta, a member of the Feathergale Society. As she invited the heroes in, Savra explained that they had good timing, as the society was planning on holding a feast to commemorate its tenth anniversary that very night! The heroes were most welcome to join them.
As the heroes entered the tower, they peppered Savra with questions about her group. She explained that she and her fellows were aerial mount enthusiasts. Mostly nobles from all over who liked to ride flying mounts like vultures and hippogriffs and go hunting in the skies.
While it was obvious from Savra’s eloquence and poise that she was of noble blood herself, the same could not be said of the two dour-looking men in drab robes standing guard inside the entry hall. In fact, these two men looked a bit under-nourished, as far as the heroes were concerned. They glowered sullenly at the heroes as they passed beneath a large wooden eagle suspended from the ceiling. Its wings and beak were made from steel. It looked heavy.
Savra ushered the adventurers into a central stairwell and led them up to the tower’s pinnacle, where, she explained, they could meet with with the society’s leader, Lord Commander Thurl Merosska. As they headed up the stairs, the heroes were vaguely unsettled by some ominous chanting coming through a slightly open door to the north.
The stairs wound up several flights before reaching a rotunda at the top of the tower. The heroes were surprised to find a grassy lawn spreading out around the rotunda, with four white stone paths indicating the points of the compass. Two knights mounted on giant vultures watched the newcomers warily as Savra introduced them to her commander.
An older man in his fifties, with faded blond hair and a muscular build, Lord Merosska had “aristocrat” written all over him. He was also pretty smooth, bowing to Calla and kissing her hand in gentlemanly fashion. He welcomed them to Feathergale Spire and repeated Savra’s invitation to join the festivities that evening. When the heroes attempted to broach the subject of the dead bodies on the hill, the commander waved a hand dismissively, telling them they would talk of such matters after the feast. After providing the adventurers with more details about the society and its goals, he directed Savra to give them a tour of the tower.
The top floor consisted of the knights’ quarters. Not much to see there. When Keth asked where they worshipped, Savra replied that they held their religious observances on the pinnacle lawn, in the open air, which didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.
The next floor down contained some more living quarters (including some spare rooms where the heroes could rest later on) plus the great hall, complete with hunting trophies and tapestries and a long, curving table laid out for a feast. Two off-duty knights were already at the table, having a few quiet drinks. The outer wall contained several large windows, open to the air outside.
Back down on the ground floor, Savra showed them the kitchen, where several of the society’s under-nourished acolytes were huddled around a bubbling cauldron. According to Savra, they were attempting to become one with the steam – an initiation rite that she herself had undertaken. The idea, Savra explained, was to free yourself from worldly concerns and attachment to physical things.
Moving on, Savra showed them the solarium next door, where two more acolytes tended to a large variety of plants, while a blue-skinned woman meditated while standing on one leg in the middle of the room. As the group entered, the woman opened her eyes and greeted the heroes warmly. Savra introduced her as Whisper, a member of the rare genasi race.
Whisper asked if any one of them would be interested in sparring with her. She was keen to fight someone better matched than the acolytes. Sorrel stepped forward with a grin. The two bowed low then began trading blows. Whisper revealed that she could push and punch without ever touching her opponent, but Sorrel proved hard to move. He gave as good as he got, but he eventually yielded first in order to save his dignity, asking that perhaps they could resume the bout another time. Whisper thanked him for his time and congratulated him on holding his own so well.
Savra then took them down to the bottom floor, which consisted of a circular store room surrounded by open-air stables, some of which housed more giant vultures, as well as a few hippogriffs. The tour seemingly over, Gil took Savra aside and asked her to take him for a ride on her hippogriff. Blushing, she told the others that they could go back up to the great hall and relax, then started getting her mount ready. Gil paid close attention to how the saddle and all the fiddly bits worked.
While the two lovebirds went soaring out into the canyon, the others climbed back up to the great hall. Sorrel retired to one of the spare rooms to rest his aching back, while Keth went to have a drink (or two or three) with the off-duty knights. Calla hovered nearby, keeping an eye on the half-orc in case he did anything stupid. Keth ended up playing them a song on his lute, a song that turned out to be about Calla. That prompted one of the knights to ask if she was his girlfriend. As Keth spluttered out a no, the knight turned to Calla: “You better watch out, lady. He’s fallen for you. Hard.” Everyone had a bit of a laugh at poor Keth’s expense.
As the sun began to set, the knights of the Feathergale Society gathered in the great hall, clad in their finest garments. The heroes were invited to sit near Lord Merosska, who asked them to share some tales of their adventures. They spoke about the work they’d done in and around Larchwood, about the half-ogres they’d fought in the badlands to the north, and so on. The knights seemed suitably impressed.
As the meal progressed, Keth decided to broach the subject of the dead men on the hill again. Merosska’s face darkened, and he began telling his guests about the knights’ sworn enemies: cultists who worshipped Ogrémoch, the evil Prince of Elemental Earth. It was clear from the vehemence with which he belittled them that the lord commander despised the members of the Cult of the Black Earth, as he called it. When the heroes told him about Larrakh, the commander confirmed in no uncertain terms that he sounded just like one of the cult’s priests.
Later, the heroes noticed one of the society’s acolytes approach Merosska and whisper in his ear, glancing at them as he did so. Much to their surprise, they were sure they recognized the man. Although he had shaved his head and was unhealthily thin, he looked very much like Rotharr Hatherhand, one of Larchwood’s disgraced elders. The one who’d run out on his family after the Believers scandal had blown up in everyone’s faces. The one who’d thought crushing his son under some heavy stones for several days was a good way to punish him for failing to deliver a message. What on Erathis was he doing here?!
Before our protagonists had a chance to find out, however, one of the knights still on watch burst into the room, shouting something about a manticore. Rotharr scuttled away into a corner as Merosska leapt to his feet. Yanking a ring off his finger, the lord commander offered it as a reward to whoever brought him the manticore’s head. He then invited his guests to join in the hunt, if they so wished. When they all said yes, Merosska approached Calla and asked her to accompany him on his personal mount.
As the adventurers emerged onto the pinnacle, they were taken aback by the change in the atmosphere after dark. The wind had died down to a gentle breeze, and the canyon had filled with fog. A half-moon shone amidst the twinkling stars in the night sky.
Suddenly, a dark shape went flitting through the fog down below. Several of the knights, already mounted on their giant vultures, swooped after it. Gil rode with Savra on her hippogriff again, while Sorrel and Keth climbed onto hippogriffs flown by the two knights Keth had entertained with his music earlier in the day. As for Calla, she was not at all surprised when Merosska’s personal mount turned out to be a snow-white griffon. Despite the warnings from her dreams, she hopped up behind Merosska and they were off.
After a few minutes of flying blindly through the dark, foggy canyon, a horn sounded from nearby. The manticore had been found! As the adventurers and their escorts approached, one knight was already in retreat, having been struck by some of the manticore’s wickedly sharp tail spikes. As the hunt progressed, Calla let loose with not one but two mighty fireballs, scorching the creature badly enough that Gil was able to finish it off with a well-placed arrow.
Back at the tower, the knights cheered Gil (and Calla) for their excellent work. Gil received his ring. And everyone went back to partying. Some time later, after quite a bit of drinking and flirting, Gil found himself being led away by Savra for a bit of hanky-panky in her quarters. They were still going at it when the others began thinking about turning in for the night.
In the middle of the night, the society’s acolytes came to wake up the adventurers and invite them to come up to the pinnacle for worship in the open air. Calla growled at them not to disturb her sleep and rolled over, while the two half-orcs began gathering their weapons. The acolytes convinced them that they wouldn’t be needing weapons and shields – and, furthermore, such things were not welcome at the service. They spouted some strange lines about emptying oneself into the void and becoming one with the wind and so on. Keth and Sorrel couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
After the two half-orcs had headed up the stairs, the remaining acolytes waited for a few moments before binding Calla’s hands and feet while she slept. Gil, meanwhile, was still with Savra in her boudoir, completely oblivious to what was about to go down elsewhere in the tower (or who, for that matter). Little did they know it, but our protagonists had been expertly divided and conquered.
When Keth and Sorrel reached the pinnacle, a man dressed in white robes with a black feather mantle was addressing the assembled knights and acolytes on the lawn in a language they couldn’t understand. They couldn’t see his face, as it was hidden behind a black, bird-like mask, but they could tell he looked just as emaciated as the dead man they’d uncovered on the hill, and he was wearing the same outfit. Just as the two were beginning to feel like something wasn’t right, the acolytes carrying Calla arrived at the top of the stairs!
Up to this point, Calla had not struggled with her captors, but when she took one look at the assembly on the pinnacle, she muttered a word of magic and teleported out of her bonds. As she did so, the Feathergales bounded into action. As the feathered priest began shouting about how the adventurers were to be sacrificed to someone named Yan-C-Bin, several of the acolytes and knights grabbed at Sorrel and Keth. The cleric responded by summoning his guardian falcon spirits, which flew around him in, slaying many of the acolytes in one go. Calla used her pearl of power to regain enough magical energy to cast another fireball, which wiped out a good number of the knights.
The strange emaciated priest conjured up gusts of wind and magical dust devils in an attempt to push Sorrel off the edge of the tower, but the warrior proved yet again to be nearly unmoveable. He slowly but inexorably fought his way back towards the central stairwell.
Merosska drew his greatsword and advanced on Calla, cutting her down with several powerful cuts. He then dragged her body over to the edge and tossed it off the side.
Meanwhile, one of the remaining knights swooped in on his giant vulture, which grabbed Keth in its mighty talons and flew off into the night with him. The half-orc managed to maintain his guardian spirits, which eventually slew the vulture, causing both Keth and the knight to plummet into the fog. The knight used air magic to slow his descent, but Keth plummeted the full five hundred feet in a matter of seconds and hit the rocks in the canyon with a sickening crunch.
Keth’s death was not entirely in vain, however: Gil had heard his friend’s scream and had looked out Savra’s window in time to see the half-orc fall past. This alerted him to the danger, and he began gathering his things. Someone knocked on Savra’s door, shouting that she was missing the fun. Realizing it would take too long to don his armor, Gil just grabbed his gear and fished around in his pack for the magic apple he’d been saving since forever. Biting into it, he turned his naked self invisible.
As Savra headed out the door, Gil climbed out the window and swung a grappling hook up to the roof to help him climb. He made it to the top in time to see Merosska throwing Calla’s body over the edge and Sorrel make a leap past the bird priest and into the stairwell. Gil cottoned on to the society’s true nature – a cult devoted to elemental air rather than earth – he decided not to hang around. Hastily climbing back down to Savra’s room, Gil grabbed the rest of his stuff and then made his way down to the stable level.
Sorrel, meanwhile, ran as fast as he could down the central stairwell as the surviving knights chased after him. He spotted Whisper coming up and barrelled past her. She tried to stop him, but he was not to be deterred. Even though she was faster than him, the half-orc was determined to get away. He made it all the way down to the entry hall, where he muscled his way past the two acolytes on guard duty. Much to his relief, the drawbridge was down! Not stopping to wonder why, he charged out onto it. Whisper dashed out behind him and tried to use her magic air powers to push him off the side but to no avail. Unfortunately, Sorrel could only withstand so much punishment. As he ran out onto the misty plateau, Whisper chased him down and beat him into submission with her fists and feet.
After a few false tries, Gil managed to find Savra’s hippogriff in the stables. It recognized her scent on him and was willing to listen when he used his dragonmark to speak with it (unlike the first two hippogriffs, who had refused to listen to him since he wasn’t their master). He managed to convince it that Savra was in trouble and needed help. Then, remembering what Savra had done with the saddle and all the fiddly beats, he got the hippogriff ready and escaped out the stable door just as some of the knights were coming down the stairs to get their own mounts. Gil directed the hippogriff down into the fog, successfully evading the knights’ notice.
He spent upwards of fifteen minutes scouring the canyon for any sign of Keth, all the while evading the knights’ notice. Much to his relief, he managed to locate his friend’s broken body at the base of the tower. He managed to convince the hippogriff to scoop Keth’s body up in its claws, but had a hard time convincing it that the body wasn’t food. By the time they reached the outskirts of Larchwood, there wasn’t a whole lot left of Keth.
Calla, meanwhile, had miraculously survived her fall [thanks to a natural 20 on a death save]. Her body was badly broken, though, and when she tried to move an arm to reach a healing potion she had in her pack, she blacked out. When she eventually came to again, she found she could move. Fearing that the knights would soon be hunting for her, she managed to get her scroll case in hand and pulled out her scroll of dimension door. The spell was not one she was able to cast normally, but she gave it her best shot.
Nothing happened. Calla watched in misery as the words faded. Resigned to her fate, she lay back on the stones, waiting to die. Some hours later, however, the spell kicked in [scroll mishap!] and she suddenly found herself up at the top of the cliff near the entrance to the tower. It was still dark out, and none of the knights seemed to be around. She was able to get a healing potion out of her bag and drink it, which healed her body enough that she could limp away.
Many hours later, Calla hobbled into Larchwood, broken but alive. Somehow she’d managed to find her way back in the dark. After a good rest and some mothering from Kaylessa, Calla sought out Gil. The two survivors mourned Sorrel’s loss as they bundled up Keth’s remains and headed off to see Iriandel and his elf druids. The party had amassed enough wealth to pay for the costly reagents needed in the druids’ reincarnation rituals. As the magic did its work, Keth returned to the land of the living in a brand new body. Standing up, he was shocked to find that Gil was no longer the shortest member of the group! Keth had been reincarnated as a halfling!
DM Notes: My players have sworn to get revenge, so we’ll be returning to Feathergale Spire next session. Even though I left Sorrel’s fate undecided, his player wanted to make a new PC. It looks like he’ll be bringing in an elf paladin of some kind. Still waiting for details.