Date: Mirtul 10th, 1491 DR
TL;DR – party meet Air Cultists at Market, travel with them to Feathergale Spire.
Market day happened in Red Larch every 10 days. Today was the warmest day the party had experienced since they had arrived in the Dessarin Valley area. The southern wind brought the warmth of the southern lands with it, and there was only an early morning light rain to spoil (in Ulryn’s opinion anyway) the day.
The market was a muddy, well used field ringed with outhouses and rings of stones used as firepits to cook or to burn trash. Today it was crowded with wagons from nearby farms or belonging to travelling merchants. Farmers had driven in from homesteads miles away to sell all manner of in-season produce, cheese, cider and cider vinegar, and last years pickled fruit and vegetables in jugs and jars. Merchants sold all manner of things from imported food to cookware and glassware to medicinal remedies. Other people sold food on sticks or served in wooden bowls. The smell of food cooking mixed with that of people and animals.
The party wandered around, looking at various displays. Ulryn had neglected his study of mask magic, which he had started learning at a bard college in Waterdeep, and had been reviewing it over the last couple of days. His recent use of magic in stressful situations had given him a better grasp of the nuances of the power, and he believed he was close to be able to create a couple of magical masks that would help him. He found some old jewellery he could melt down for the precious metal, and few small gemstones which he needed. The elf bard already had the particular type of wood needed for his masks, but they still needed some carving and engraving work, as well as the adding of the metals and gemstones. The masks would need to be created in one go, and he’d only get one chance at it with the materials he had. If he failed he’d have to start again from scratch, so Ulryn was keen to wait until everything was right.
Windypop suddenly stopped and stared, and then pointed at some men negotiating with farmers for their produce.
“We need to talk to those men,” he said. “They are from Feathergale Spire.”
The party had talked about visiting Feathergale Spire first, Ulryn and Natas needed to make contact with the young woman there and perhaps talk her into returning home to her family in Waterdeep.
They made their way over to the men from Feathergale Spire, and talked to the one who was giving orders to the others to load up produce and checking things from a list.
“Are you from Feathergale Spire?” asked Natas. He and Windypop stood at the front of the party.
“Who’s asking?” said the man. He was tall and thin, cleanshaved and well dressed. He did not seem alarmed at the unusual gathering before him.
“We’re heading there ourselves,” answered Natas. “We’re a combination of adventurers and entertainers. I think we could be of benefit to you.”
The man frowned and looked like he was about to tell them to go away, when he caught sight of Windypop making the sign of the air cult.
“We’re going to the tavern before we leave,” he said. “Meet us there in an hour and we’ll talk. We have a few more items to acquire.”
An hour later the thin man entered the tavern with most, but not all, of the rest of his crew. He nodded to the party and sat down with them while his men found another table.
“I’m Gareth,” he said. The party members introduced themselves.
“So what’s the story?” Gareth asked, after ordering his drink.
“It’s complicated,” said Windypop.
“Well, you can tell it to the Commander,” said the thin man. “But if you’re up to shenanigans, you won’t be coming back alive, fair warning.”
“Acknowledged,” said Natas. “If it makes you feel more at ease, know that we killed an earth cult priest a couple of days ago.”
“Did you now?” Gareth seemed stuck between impressed and skeptical.
“We have his medallion,” said Natas, producing the triangle shaped amulet Larrakh was intending to use as a focus for his spells.
“Hmm, well good for you,” said Gareth. “Might be we can use adventurers aligned to our cause. But the Commander will decide, as I said.”
There was some small talk, and then Gareth roused his men who downed their drinks and left. The party followed.
The wagons were pulled by oxen, and the men either walked beside them or rode on the carts of food and goods. It was a slow pace, especially when the road became steep as it climbed up into the Sumber Hills. A couple of hours out of town Gareth pointed up into the air. The party looked and saw two winged shapes, humanoid wheeling towards them. All the cultists reached for crossbows. The fired at them, it was obvious the gesture was to warn them off rather than kill them, the range was too great. It worked, for the two winged humanoids wheeled away and flew off.
“They have weapons,” said Kallista, squinting as she tried to make out the far away figures.
“Aarokocra,” Gareth said. “They are smart, like people, not like animals. But they are likely to attack if we don’t put up a show of force straight away. It is a pity, they are creatures of air and we should be allies.”
Shortly after that the caravan of wagons left the Larch Path and headed south east along a track. There was one overnight stay. The party were invited to contribute to the night watches, which they did, but nothing bothered them. It was a cold night, and so Gareth ordered a fire to be built. Joining in the banter around the campfire before everyone turned in for the night, Esplen judged the cultists to be rigid in their beliefs, harshly judgemental of others, perhaps even evil in the right situation after listening to what they said they would do if they ever captured an earth or water cultist.
“So there are water cultists too,” whispered Natas to Esplen. “We know there are earth cultists, and no doubt there are fire cultists somewhere.”
“Yes, the ones that attacked the village near my forest were fire cultists,” Esplen reminded him.
“I wonder if there are ‘spirit’ cultists?” wondered Natas.
“Don’t be silly,” said Windypop. “Spirit as a fifth element is just in fantasy stories. There are only four elements.”
While the party members were pleasant to the cultists, none of the party members got along with them, with the possible exception of Kallista. She knew and had worked with many people such as these, and knew how to talk and act around them. She, out of all the party, gained the most respect from their hosts.
Date: Mirtul 11th, 1491 DR
The next day at dawn the cultists held a service dedicated to a deity of air that no one had heard of – something like Yancybin and a prophet called Aerisi. They party noticed there was an emphasis on freedom, punishment of sinners (which seemed to be those who would oppose them), and values of intelligence and resourcefulness. The ceremony was short, only 20 minutes, and then they made ready and the caravan continued along the track. After a couple of hours they stopped, Gareth shading his eyes as he peered ahead, his thin frame taut with tension.
“Trouble?” asked Natas.
“More aarakocra up ahead, maybe an ambush,” Gareth replied. “I do wish they would leave us alone.”
“Let us deal with it,” suggested Natas. “We’d like to make ourselves useful and not just passengers.”
“Go ahead, but don’t blame me if you get your body punctured with aarakocra spears,” grunted Gareth. “And try not to kill them, they are creatures of the air, after all.”
Natas gathered the group and made their way towards a group of boulders where the bird-men were peering at them.
Natas hailed them, and the party used all the languages they knew.
“Common will do,” said the leader aarakocra. His accent was harsh, but understandable.
They talked, the aarakocra were suspicious. There was bad history between them and the air cultists. Natas explained themselves, but the bird-men were no less wary. The leader was also some kind of clan leader, and gave his name as a series of syllabals which also included some unpronounceable clicks, trills and whistles. Then he said when interacting with humans he called himself Deekek. He was giving a beak open look which Natas instinctively realised was their version of a smile or a laugh. They exchanged names, and Deekek advised that their belief the air cultists were evil was based on their observation that the air cultists attacked travellers, and sometimes sacrificed people to their air deity by throwing them off the top of the spire. Sometimes the aarakockra try to rescue them in mid air, but they are shot at by the cultists – although more to drive them off rather than kill them. The aarakockra were here to waylay cultists, but realised this cultist caravan had too many men with crossbows, and were just deciding what to do when approached by the party. Natas suggested that he make a show of scaring them off, so as to maintain their cover as friends to the cultists. Deekek agreed, seeing the sense in having allies who could give them information about the cultists at some later time. Natas cast a cantrip to make a lot of noise and light, similar to fireworks, and the aarakocra took to the sky, screeching. There was a cheer from the cultists from behind.
“You took your time,” said Gareth as the party returned.
“We were trading insults,” said Natas. “We got tired of that and let loose some magic, but they flew out of range too quickly.”
The party and cultists continued onto Feathergale Spire.
To be continued…