The ale was flowing and the tales were tall in Red Larch. The local villagers watched out of the corners of their eyes as Alani and Ralph made toasts to each other. The feats performed at Rivergard became more elaborate with each “Cheers!” At the bar, a pretty young barmaid was making doe eyes at Alani.
Sudden shouting from outside got everyone’s attention. Ralph downed the last of his pint and headed for the door, great axe already in his hand. Seraphus is right behind, his flaming sword sparking to life.
"You! What are you doing?! Stop!!" It sounded like one of the Constable's men.
Dagny got to her feet and rumbled to the door, Rhennya draining down the last of her drink beside her.
"Just when I was getting lucky with the ladies!" grumbled Alani, wiping a bit of foam from his lip. He rushed towards a window to get a better view of the street outside, making sure to flex a bicep as he made his way past the barmaid, who was gawping at him in the commotion.
Seraphus burst through the door. “What’s going on here,” he demanded. Kasumi, silent as a shadow, was at his side.
Several strangely dressed people stood in the street, wearing swirling blue-green robes. One who looked like a priest chanted aloud as the others opened a large box engraved with a recurring elemental symbol. Inside, a magical orb resembling a crystal ball pulsed and thrummed with power. The priest held the orb aloft and continued to chant while the others knelt before it.
“Oh no,” said Seraphus, visibly wilting.
“Here we go again,” said Ralph, the smile not leaving his face.
Dagny, catching a glimpse of the orb, called out to the villagers milling around in confusion, “Run and take cover! Let us handle this!”
Kasumi, always the ready one, takes a running leap and vaults over the astounded cultists and lands beside the priest holding aloft the devastation orb. Kasumi cut at the priest decisively, slicing into the chain shirt he wore under his robe. Using her ki energy, the priest is stunned.
“More blood for the red dragon!” she screams in his shocked face.
Dagny sighed and mentally readied a spell of healing. She had a feeling Kasumi would be needing her skills soon.
Kasumi knees the priest in his tender parts. He doubles over in pain, his chant forgotten. Small tentacles erupt from his mouth, curling. The few villagers still watching nearby recoil in disgust.
Rhennya rushes past her companions to cast Ice Storm upon the entire group, Kasumi included. Five of the cultists drop dead immediately, the other left standing there shivering and alone, next to the priest, who is barely holding on. Kasumi, blood lust in her eyes, shakes off the cold. Shards of ice pound down upon the square. Villagers scramble away in fear.
Dagny yelled out to the remaining two cultists: "Your gods will not help you now! See how little they cherish you!"
Alani took aim from the window and fired an arrow deadly and true. It hits the priest squarely in the chest. He staggered back and fell to the ground, dropping the still pulsing crystal orb. It rolled away from Kasumi along the muddy, ice-ridden ground.
Another arrow followed the first, striking the last remaining cultist in the gut. He sank to his knees in mortal pain.
For a moment, everyone held their breath. Then the orb exploded with a low WHOMP. A blast of wet air rolled over the crossroads. Thunder rolled overhead and a heavy, unrelenting rain began to fall, plastering Kasumi’s blood-spattered kimono to her skin as she stood there amid a field of corpses. A half-hearted cheer arose from the villagers, as they fled from the sudden onslaught of rain.
“How badly are you hurt, Kasumi? Do you need assistance?” asked Dagny.
“A large cup of sake would not go amiss,” said Kasumi, pushing her wet hair out of her face. The guard who raised the alarm rushed over to wrap his cloak chivalrously about her shoulders. Dagny laid her hands upon Kasumi, avoiding any blood spatters and cast Cure Wounds.
Seraphus and Rhennya searched the bodies for anything useful. There wasn’t much. They seemed to have brought minimal gear with them, likely not expecting to return giving that they had carried a devastation orb with them. But the last man shot by Alani still lived, slumped on the ground with blood still bubbling slowly around the arrow lodged in his stomach.
"We should question the wretch," said Dagny, noting his slow, laboured breathing.
He glared silently and defiantly up at her as the rain drenched him. She pulled out a healing potion and showed it to the man. "If you tell us what you know, perhaps this can be yours."
Kasumi was more direct. She poked him with her sword to rouse him. “Oi, you! To whom do you hold allegiance?”
The sword proved mightier. The cultist flinched fearfully at Kasumi. "Fire Warrior! No!"
He gasped. "I... I serve Gar Shatterkeel, Prophet of the Crushing Wave."
“And my blade burns hotter than any flame, you shall see. Talk! What exactly was your purpose here?”
The cultist gasped in pain. "First... potion..." he reached for Dagny's vial.
Dagny held the potion just out of his reach. It rankled her as a healer, but... "You must give us reason beyond that to save you. Can this rain be stopped?"
The cultist glared at Dagny. "We - we were sent to punish this town, for harbouring you. Vengeance for the destruction you wrought at Rivergard."
Rhennya stood nearby, staring at the clouds and trying to determine their nature, but ready to step in if help was needed.
Kasumi looked thoughtful. “Well, vengeance I can understand....But it only really applies if you actually manage to carry it out....”
Dagny took another look at the ever-darker sky. "I fear their vengeance falls with this rain." She dangled the healing potion tantalizingly over his head. "I ask you again, can it be stopped? How long will it go on for?"
"Stopped... nothing can stop the Rain!” The cultist groaned aloud in pain.
"Anything begun can be ended, including your life." Dagny stepped closer to the cultist. Now, perhaps, was a time for the hammer over the healing hand.
Seraphus, who had remained quiet until now, stepped up to the cultist and placed his flaming sword near his exposed neck. “Hello, there,” he said with a grin that clearly said he didn’t mind getting a little more blood on his weapon. He had, after all, missed out getting in a lick in the earlier battle.
The cultist looked horrified at the flaming blade before his eyes. "No! Please! Not the Accursed Flame!" He looked down, sobbing.
The dragonborn looked pleased. “Bow down to Tiamat, fool.”
"The rain cannot be stopped! It will destroy your crops! Turn your roads to trackless mud! It is the will of Great Olyhydra!"
Kasumi, Seraphus, Dagny, Ralph and Rhenny looked at each other, confused. Who was this Olyhydra?
“Perhaps a taste of steel will loosen his tongue,” said Ralph.
"Be careful, his wounds have already bled a great deal," said Dagny. “And I am reluctant to place my hands upon him.”
“Why do we care? If he can't stop the rain, might as well mount his head on the wall,” grumbled Ralph.
The cultist groaned, eyes closed against the pain and blood pooling below him. "Olyhdra - great Prince of the Waters! The Crushing Wave!" The cultist opened his red-rimmed eyes, glaring hard at Dagny. "Soon the Prophet will open the Elemental Portal! Olhydra will rise from the Deep! All this land will fall to the Eternal Waters of the Crushing Wave!"
“Where is this prophet?” Ralph demanded.
The cultist spit on the muddy ground, his spittle mixing with his blood.
“Where is he?” Seraphus pressed his flaming sword closer to the man’s neck. Dagny quietly murmurs a thaumaturgy cantrip and the flames burn ever brighter. The cultist flinches back, his brief show of bravado forgotten.
"He is... he is below the dwarven city. In the Elemental Node, where the Drow Archmage left the Weapon of Power for the True Prophet, so long ago! There he prepares for the coming of Great Olyhdra! You cannot stop the Crushing Wave!"
Dagny turned to the others left outside, her hair dripping with rain. "I am loathe to waste a healing potion on this...man. But he has given us some information. What say you?"
Ralph grunted. “Give him the potion...then kill him.”
Dagny grimaced and turned to the cultist. "Is there any more you can tell us about the location of the Elemental Node below the Dwarven city?"
"Only the Priests and the Prophet may venture to the Most Holy." The man is barely whispering now.
Constable Harburk, better late than never, turned up with his two of his men. He nodded to the cloakless fellow standing near Kasumi, shivering in the cold rain. "This one is the last survivor? They'll pay for this damn rain, eh?!" He grinned through his bushy blond moustache.
Dagny nodded to the Constable. "We shall depart forthwith, but this rain may not stop for days. It would be best if you get the word out to tell the villagers to protect their crops and hay." She tossed the potion to the prisoner. “I am a dwarf of my word,” she said. The cultist miserably caught the vial, opened it and gulped it down, grinning as the arrow eases out of his stomach and the bleeding stopped. "You have served Olyhdra well by saving his humble servant!" he says, approvingly. She turns away, disgusted.
Meanwhile, inside the pub, Alani had retreated from the window and made his way back to the bar. He cast a reassuring look at the barmaid, who had barely moved from her spot. The girl smiled back at Alani, somewhat starry-eyed. "You did it! You defeated them!" She looked down shyly. "I'm Ghileeda Irkell, niece to Kaylessa Irkell, the Innkeeper."
“Delighted to meet you, fair Ghileeda!”
Ghileeda gazed up at Alani. "And you too, Alani! I've heard so much about your adventures! You must tell me more!" She glances up as her aunt Kaylessa emerged from the kitchen.
"What happened?! What's all that noise?"
"Just a squirmish with some damn cultists outside,” said Alani.
Kaylessa looked out the open double doors, at the dead cultists and rain pouring down. "That's no natural rain!"
"What do you mean? Have you seen this before?" Alani leaned forward encouragingly.
"Aunt, Alani here killed the priest! He saved us! Can I serve him a free drink?" Kaylessa looked hard at her niece, her eyes twinkling slightly and she nodded. "Aye, of course. The Tethyran mead." She turned back to Alani. "I can tell! You know I have a sense of things!"
Ghileeda places a mug full to the brim of a sweet-smelling amber liquid in front of Alani.
"Thank you so much, lady Kaylessa!" Alani said, hoping that Tethyran mead was not a waitress codeword for laxative. The twinkle in her eye had unmanned him.
He whispered to Ghileeda, “How does she know that it was unnatural? Is your auntie a druidess?"
"Oh, she's always claiming to have feelings about this and that. Said she could feel the Necromancer outside of town, a few months back. Some say she's touched by the gods. I dunno." She shrugged, putting an arm around Alani and pressing against him. "Perhaps we could talk further in my room, tonight?"
"I am sure we have a lot of things to share" He said with a grin.
She smiled up at him, arms tightening around his waist. "I'm sure we have lots in common!"
Kaylessa had taken to swabbing the bar and muttering to herself. "Fogs that persist in the Sumber Hills even in bright sunlight! Sudden gusts of hot wind sweeping west out of the hills where breezes have always been cold! Sudden bolts of lightning stabbing up from the hills into a clear sky. Earth tremours! Terrible rains! None of it natural, not at all..."
Rhennya, having had enough of the rain outside, returns inside. She harrumphed at Kaylessa in agreement. "Weird, this rain! Unnatural!"
Kaylessa nodded affably to a kindred spirit. "Aye! I was just saying so!" She sets a mug down in front of Rhennya. "Mudslides next, probably, judging by this rain!"
Rhennya said, "What do you think is behind it all?"
“I can only guess,” said the Innkeeper, turning a watchful eye to her niece.
Ghileeda tossed Alani a last kiss and turned away, a swagger in her hips as she goes to serve three old men clustered near the taproom fire.
The rest return inside, as Harburk drags the cultist away through the rain.
“We may not have much time,” said Dagny. “My man Bruldenthar at Sacred Stone knows all there is to be known about Tyar Besil. I suggest we consult him before venturing below.”
Sighing but nodding in agreement, Rhennya and Alani quickly quaff the last of their drinks and as one they go to see Iraun, the one-eyed stablemaster.
"You back off to Sacred Stone, mistress Dagny?"
“We all are,” she said. “Please take care. These are dark and stormy days."
Iraun nods, rubbing the long scar across his eye socket and cheek. "Aye." He nods to Rhennya. "Your horses are behind the partition, milady Rhennya, they get skittish with the hippogriffs about..."
Dagny and Kasumi quickly mounted their hippogrifs, Edna and Usagi, and launched into the sky, shielding themselves as best they could from the rain. The rest followed behind on their horses and arrived some hours later and were ushered in to dry off and take some refreshment in front of a fire that had been prepared for them.
Dagny had already learned as much as she could from Bruldenthar. The old dwarf sage had little urgency about him.
"I was just having an interesting conversation with the Lich, Renwick Caradoon - fascinating fellow... Tyar Besil, you say? Yes, a long term interest of mine..." He poured himself some tea strengthened with something from a flask he kept in his vest pocket.
"I hope he is well...well, as well as a Lich can be. Did he have any knowledge about Tyar Besil?" Dagny prodded gently.
“He's sadly lacking in interest in our glorious dwarven heritage, as best I can ascertain. He kept asking me to seek out the Knights of Samular and fetch him his brother's mortal remains. I politely ... was non-committal."
"You can reassure him that I am on that...as soon as it is feasible to do so." She took a sip of her own, non-doctored tea. "I do wish to stay on his good side."
Bruldenthar nodded, stroking his fine grey beard. "Aye, I used words to that effect. Lady Dagny is right on it, I said! As soon as circumstances allow."
“Bruldenthar, have you any advice for us regarding what we will find below?" Dagny cleared her throat. "The cultist mentioned an Elemental Node...?"
Bruldenthar frowned. "Hmm. Legends speak of nodes of power across Faerun... the Life Node, the Earth node, the Death Node, the Fire node... and yes, Tyar Besil sits atop a confluence of Elemental power."
"Do the nodes correspond in any way to the temples they sit below? Such as the Sacred Stone being over, perhaps, the Earth Node?"
"Hmm. It is a little more complex than that. You see, Tyar Besil was divided into four quadrants, each associated with an elemental power. The Foundries atop the Fire Node, for instance. Centuries after she fell, human adventurers built castles above the entrances to each quadrant... castles that in time, and ruin, became known as the Haunted Keeps." He took another large swig of his tea. "I believe Sacred Stone, Feathergale, Scarlet Moon Hall, and likely Rivergard, are the Four Keeps. And that each guards an entry to the part of Tyar Besil corresponding to their Element."
"I would suppose, then, that we must make our way down to the node below Rivergard?"
The sage nodded sagely.
“Can we get there from here, or is it faster to go to Rivergard?” she asked. “I know the tunnels interconnect but perhaps the distance is too great?”
She nodded to Alani, who had entered the room. He nodded back, looking uncomfortable. “I am not too keen to travel by tunnels.”
"I believe the most direct way to the Node of Water is likely via Rivergard,” said Bruldenthar. “But yes, it might be quicker to descend from here into the Earth Quadrant of Tyar Besil... were it not that the Cult of Black Earth still holds those halls!" He gingerly rubbed his neck, slit by the Black Earth Abbess Hellenrae.
Dagny patted the old dwarf’s shoulder. “Is there any other advice you can give us regarding what we might find down below? Once we reach the Water Node?”
"My suspicion is that each of the four Elemental Cults occupied their own quadrant of Tyar-Besil, and fortified it with allied creatures. Some of the ancient dwarven defences may also yet endure. It will be a perilous place indeed!"
Dagny sighed. "As I suspected. Please pray for us, Brother Bruldenthar."
"I shall pray to the Allfather Moradin for you, My Lady. And for your companions."
"Regarding any remains of the ancient dwarven defences, is there anything in particular we should keep an eye out for?" She took another sip, wishing she could steal a bit from the sage’s flask. "Markings, perhaps? Something only a dwarven eye might appreciate?"
"Hm... subtle markings in archaic runes, perhaps?"
Rhennya entered the room with the rest and made her way towards the fire. Alani turned to her. “Do we have any magical ways to breathe underwater if the need arises?"
“I have recently learned how to cast water breathing. It will last up to a day. It should suffice,” said Rhennya. Seraphus nodded, pleased.
Bruldenthar, lost in thought, and almost muttering to himself, said, “Tyar Besil fell long ago - to the Orcs, they say. But perhaps also ...darker... forces... some say the Drow were involved."
"The Drow?" Dagny gulped, trying not to look worried. "Do the tunnels tie into the Underdark?"
Bruldenthar nodded, gazing into the fire.
Kasumi, standing in the doorway, said, “In that case, we must keep our blades sharp and our wits sharper.” She did not look displeased. Ralph silently took out his great axe and began sharpening it.
"Little or nothing has been heard of the Drow in these parts, since the Spellplague collapsed their dark-gleaming cities. But 'tis best to beware." Bruldenthar nodded to himself, nearly dozing. “And, of course if Olhydra does enter the Material Plane, his host of Kraken won't be far behind..."
They all looked at each other silently. Rivergard it was. There was no time to waste.