Tormenoth, attending Bingham Warfrost, is the first to get back to his dormitory, only to find a note from Professor Zap. “Campus security has checked out the necklace, swing by my office to pick it up.” With some time left in the evening, Tormenoth decides to get it over with. He just catches the tail end of Zap’s office hours, stepping into the small office. “You know, even some of the alumni they asked to look at this thing couldn’t figure out any curses or malingering magics,” Zap says, pulling a box from a locked drawer. Making some idle pleasantries about security procedures, he makes eye contact, glances down, and shows the small notch in the necklace. He continues without missing a beat, leaning forward on his armchair, “That should satisfy higher-ups, freeing you to get this back. You should know that Camden’s Own was given a stern talking to about their libelous activities. All parties thought it best that they withdraw from the competition. On a side note, have you considered choosing someone“ Zap is interrupted by a knock at the door. He gets up, pokes his head out to confer with an exasperated teaching assistant. “Let me finish that thought. For the Prismatic Ball? Sorry, but I have to split up a practice duel that is about to become quite real.” Tormenoth waits patiently, turning over the amulet in his hands for any sign of tampering until Zap returns after a short while. With not much more to talk about and no questions Tormenoth can think to ask, Tormenoth says his goodnites.
Next to return to her campus is Rila, but she finds a bunch of fresh flowers with a note outside of her door from Lucillo. The card reads, in flawless cursive on fine, thin paper, “Perhaps a night together by candlelight?”. Between the thin paper, the lack of any suggested time or place from the usually scrupulous Lucillo, and the mention of candlelight, Rila immediately ducks into her room to hold the note up to a flame. She conjures magical fire in a small stone mortar to reveal the words shining through the note, “Word around is for other Fey not to get involved with you and your family, be wary.” Without much to go on except a renewed worry for her family, Rila turns in for a night of fitful slumber. That slumber is broken when her breakfast routine is interrupted by a pair of half-elves flanking her oldest brother coming with a request for her to come home. They have an enchanted junk to expedite the trip and her brother presses the case with his, unusual for him, scowl. She tries to press her brother, but his gruff response is, “You left us all to fend for ourselves, running away to your fancy schools of magic. Well now we need you.” Rila agrees to go with but will need some time to gather her things and allies, trying not to let on how unlike him that statement was. He was her biggest supporter in the family, and even if it was a long-shot, Rila’s job was to try and find a magical way to save their village. Following breakfast, she tries to meet with Lucillo about the note he sent, but he brushes her off, “Somebody has you in their sights and enough pull to tell anyone with Fey anything to back off, so I think we both should play things cool for now.” Rila cannot wait to meet with the group for their pre-arranged lunch, she needs their help.
Ariel and Leon get back to their campus and rooms without incident. Both, however, wake to early knocks at their doors. In Ariel’s case, the single, quiet knock precedes a folded note flying under her door. Wary, she groggily unfolds it to read, “Burn me in a private place.” With her dorm being as private as she can reasonably get without having to beg Styx, she burns it with a quick spark of eldritch magic. The smoke and fire forms the shape of an exotic, extraplanar, but indistinct face. The Mockingjay introduces themself, apologizing for the delay. They have decided that Ariel and her team have useful information, so a trade is proposed. In return for information about what Tiamat is currently up to, the Mockingjay will tell Ariel about her angelic heritage. She thinks on her feet, offering vague theories of a certain goddess’ plans, citing a wariness of being too specific and avoiding specifically mentioning the Egg. Ariel mentions some treasure Tiamat placed on the mortal plane for dragons to fight over, but doesn’t know what her endgame is. Satisfied, the Mockingjay offers the tale of what happened to her lost parents. Her father, Penemue, was an angel in self-exile that fell for a mortal woman. He was hunted by the Choir of Razors, an angelic group that is overzealous in its aims to purge heretics and apostates of the heavens. They were the ones who killed both her birth mother during the initial hunt and her mother when she went looking for what happened to her sister. Mockingjay then states a desire to continue the deal if she should come upon clarifying information about Tiamat’s plans, more information could be dug up or searched out about Penemue and the Choir of Razors.
Dawn’s early light pokes through Leon’s curtains, shining right on his face in a rising sun shape, waking him just before he hears someone murmuring to themselves outside his door. Leon doesn’t hesitate and jumps out of bed to confront this person who turns out to be Hector. Giving Leon a moment to make himself respectable, as Hector points out a man of faith should always strive to be, Hector strides into his room with a thick folder of papers under his arm. “Leon, you’ve generally had a better head for this bookish, behind the scenes number stuff. I would greatly appreciate… that is to say, I need your… help. I am tracking down what exactly is happening in this chivalric order, Dawn’s Charge. I am certain something shady is going on but I can’t pin my finger on exactly what.” Leon considers rubbing it in, but decides to hold his tongue since it seems Lathander took an interest in this, “I can take a look at it Hector, if it is this important.” Hector hands over the bundle and slaps Leon on the back a bit too hard, “I knew I could count on you, little buddy.”
After meeting up following their busy mornings, the Dissonant Whisperers almost talk over each other trying to describe the events of the night and morning. With a quick lunch from a street vendor and hushed debate, they decide Rila’s family has the most pressing need. While buying and selling a few more items, now with departure in mind, Rila does some research on the Winter Court. Her research doesn’t uncover much novel information, but the court supposedly fell apart from internal intrigue hundreds of years ago. Without a solid presence in the mortal plane, no winter fey have the right royal claim to reform the court and the other courts have been unwilling to let any from the Feywilds cross over to restart it either. Having geared up for a possible fey fight, the group heads over to Page and Wisdom to board this mysterious magical ship.
Rila and the group went off the edge of campus to find her brother and the floating ship waiting. Its reds and yellows splash vibrantly across its sleek hull and many folded sails. It is crewed by relatively quiet elven sailors that make little eye contact with the group. Rila tries to get more information from her brother, but he is uncooperative and retires to his bunk to sleep. Confirming her plan with some mental messages to the others, the Dissonant Whisperers play at being boring passengers to wait until nightfall to prowl the ship for answers. Shortly after take-off, the ship begins to rapidly accelerate as the captain mentions their ship’s ability to skip between the boundaries of planes for extra air speed. After dark, when they hear the patrols of sailors has been reduced to a skeleton crew, they sneak out to explore. The hold has berths for the sleeping crew and her brother as well as storage rooms full of unusual goods. Foodstuffs and decor that is riotously summer: juicy blueberries, wines, and flowers. In the back, hidden is a small empty fireplace that hasn’t seen a fire in a long time. Without anywhere else to look, they take a peek into the Captain’s room when he and his first mate make their rounds. The lavish room has one major point of interest, the chest covered in frost. Unusually, it is unlocked and no traps are detected. Reading the rolled document within, they discover it is a contract worded such that the exiled summer court faeries shall serve a Princess Chione in reforming the Winter Court. On completion they shall be granted new titles in the court. They shall go from Cimoth, Baron of Warm Gales, and Lithre, Countess of Endless Blooms, to the Duke of Rime Winds and Duchess of Frozen Petals. It is at that moment Captain Cimoth and First Mat Lithre step back into the room, nonchalant and not alarmed. Cimoth speaks first, “Oh no, you have discovered our true nature as summer court fey, exiled and forced to seek another court. If you used that knowledge against us and the Winter Court never came to be, we would be stuck on the mortal plane without being tied to either Summer or Winter.” Unsure what to say, the group hesitates until Lithre cocks her head, “If that were to happen, why we’d just be free agents with a magical ship and no responsibilities who slipped the punishments of the Summer Court intrigues that banished us here.” The group picks up on what the two are saying, but a guard from outside the cabin raises the alarm. Ghost pirates are closing in rapidly on the ship.
The green glow of the sea poltergeists rises from all sides around the ship. The elven crew takes up positions to protect their hold while the captain races for the wheel of the ship. The battle is swift with Tormenoth, Ariel, and Leon blasting the ghosts with magic. Cimoth and Lithre fight for the wheel with a strong ghost, rocking the ship back and forth. A few of the ghosts are blasted apart but the group aren’t quick enough to stop what appears to be the ghost of Altreyo from diving into the floorboards and pilfering some goods from the hold before spotting the magical contract in the cabin. He swings wide around the ship, evading blasts of magic to leap through the cabin. He almost manages to escape the ship with contract in hand, but Leon’s use of Banishment disperses their teammate’s ghost leaving behind the contract. Rila dives to catch it as Lithre disperses the ghost at the wheel. The ghosts are gone and they continue their rapid flight to the south, leaving Blackrun’s airspace. They begin to wonder what struck down their former teammate, knowing that he won’t be at rest until they can put his bones to rest.
With the excitement and espionage over, the group finally heads to sleep. In the morning the ship completes the last few dozen miles to arrive in Rila’s frigid home town. While closing in, they could see from above a bubble of healthy winter surrounded by warmer, unhealthy thawing permafrost. Stepping off the ship, she is greeted by a town that has gone through significant changes while she was away. Everything appears to be colder and healthier than they have been in a while. Green pines, healthy elk herds, populous fish, and snow. At the same time, the town has been surrounded by walls of snow, something untenable for a very long time, now necessary to ward off hungry polar bears and wolves from the surrounding area. New construction has picked up and there are many new people in town, tallfolk with more or less obvious fae heritage. As she takes all this in with a big nostalgic whiff of drying fish, Rila is approached by a half-elven man named Kiren Galesnow. “Hello, yes, Rila? I am here to escort you to your family manor on a matter of the, uh, um, utmost, well you see, that is to say, important matter.” As the man babbles on about new fae arrivals given sanctuary and the most recent changes her family has brought in with Chionne, Rila blusters right past his continued attempts to get them to go to her family manor. From a distance she can see what used to be the ancestral longhouse has been expanded and upgraded into a large manor of ice, snow, wood, and earth. She stops to talk with townsfolk who seem happy with the changes, although a bit nervous. They are excited that she has finally come home. A few even take the opportunity to ask that she use her newfound druid skills and adventurer team to the task of scaring off some of the more aggressive wildlife. The Dissonant Whisperers are non-commital but do finally decide to follow Kiren to the Carlis manor.
They head into the manor. When Kiren can finally get the group into the manor, it is a beautiful place, with an entry hall highlighting her tribe's artifacts and history, but the details are slightly off putting. They focus on ties to winter, with achievements and history of her clan almost secondary. “In the great winter storm, three nights of great snowfall coated the pines and frosted the rivers making for a stark, beautiful, if dangerous terrain. It was on this coldest and darkest night of the year, rime coating his spear and ice filling his beard, smell of pines all around that Evereth slew the great bear, returning a hero.” reads a plaque below an heirloom spearhead. “These hides remain from extended travel in our clan's past from the south where unbroken ice, beasts, and permafrost originate from, according to myth, some hidden source of frigid wind keeps Frystoraefin cold from the south.” The entrance hall itself is long, with old artifacts and stories giving way to a T-intersection with the facing wall depicting an unfinished mural which Rila recognizes as her elder sister’s style. The painting shows winter fey clasping arms with her father, the lead half-fey holding a broken crown, teary-eyed, and behind her father, half-dead pines and starving elk. Kiren takes the opportunity in the hallway to congratulate the group for being here with Rila for this important junction. He continues, “If you will please, sorry, Rila only, follow me to the right.” As the group gets distracted by the heirlooms and Rila debates wandering off to look for her family, Kiren grows more and more exasperated. “Please, Rila, this is really quite important, sorry. Everyone is waiting.” When Rila finally agrees, he holds the door open for her to the throne room.
Chione sits in a large throne room having animated discussions with the many halflings seated in wooden benches around the large stone chair. When they notice her arrival, Princess Chione introduces herself and explains her need for Rila’s agreement to fulfill the magical ritual she wants to use to bring Winter back. Everyone gets what they want, she gets a fey title and her town gets access to the power they need to bring back the winter cold the animals and plants need. She has been exceedingly fair, even allowing the town an exit from her deal by having the town physically leave before the first moon, which they tried and when the magic pulled back, they realized how bad the warming had gotten. Now, all that is needed is Rila’s ascent to have unanimous agreement to kickstart the ritual. Sensing hesitation from Rila, she elaborates on the cruel treatment of half-fey across the world, especially those of winter court descent due to lack of any Winter presence to protect them. Her own village is the ideal place to bring it back, and they all gain, her village having suffered due to weakening of the winter here. When Rila asks to talk with her family about it and think it over, Chione chides her that time is of the essence but agrees, she needs buy-in from everyone for this grand spell to work. Fae magic is old like that. With a word, she sends Kiren to find her father then her brother. Her family is constantly busy, and only able to meet with her one at a time. This compounded with their lack of telepathic messaging leads Rila to suspect a shapeshifter of some sort. Using the excuse of needing to clear her head, she goes out to explore the surrounding area for information about the aggressive bears. They all bring along her “brother” but decide against showing their hand and confronting him in the woods. She even heads to an old meditation spot she used to hide in amongst fallen pines to discuss with Ariel, Leon, and Tormenoth away from the earshot of her false brother. A short but quick debate ensues as they realize the winter court is not a viable solution and hatch a plan of attack. The first step is finding and freeing her family. They don’t trust that the Winter Court won’t screw them on some technicality even if this ritual itself doesn’t cause a catastrophe.
On the way back, the group stops around town to ask some questions. Asking for more details about the agreement and her family specifically. One breaks from their cheery disposition to beg Rila to finish the agreement by kneeling. They debated backing out, and tried it once, but when fey aid was withdrawn things snapped back hard. Some of the elves about town hear the chatter and join in stating that many of them have been searching for a home, without a place to call theirs. It comes out from hearing a few of their stories that they were recently approached with the idea of a community, rather than scattered outcasts or pariahs by elves on a great red ship and Princess Chione. Having been around Rila can see the bubble around town of colder climates where things are good, with the warmer areas with spindly elks, sicky trees, and too-warm permafrost. Fish weren’t getting the cold they needed to lay eggs, winter foliage being outcompeted by northern weeds, and increasingly aggressive, hungry predators moved in. This seems like a long term change finally coming to a head rather than any sort of magical interference or curse.
Back at the manor, they wait until that evening to sneak around looking for her family. A peek into the throne room by Rila in shapeshifted spider form finds Chione keeping court at all hours, with packed halfling seating. Rila backs out from that side of the manor and explores elsewhere to find her family frozen in a small library. Gathering the Dissonant Whisperers, they move the family through their magical cabinet to thaw her father and eldest brother. The others will have to wait until they have spell slots to spare. Her brother and father explain the deal with Chionne, how badly their attempted exiting when, and then their return. Chione lashed out with harsh punishments on her family, freezing them on the spot to avoid further “agitation” of the town. Rila’s brother explains some of the digging he had done into Chione’s past. “She grew up as Carenyphe Deepgrove, daughter to a witch executed in Gi and thought dead. Dad tried confronting her about her past when we came back but that really sent her over the edge. The deal itself however is pretty simple in its wording: I give unending fealty to the Winter Court, to save our clan from ruin and restore our lands.” Her father goes on to add that they want out of the deal, but don’t see a way to keep everyone safe. Backing out of the deal just puts them right back against the wall of a warming Fristoraefin. Rila says her goodbyes and leaves her family in their rented bank vault to confront Chione.
When they enter the throne, Rila refuses the deal, Chione smirks imperiously, “You will kneel. You could have benefitted from this power and more! With you here and kneeling I could have broken through to immortality in the Winter Court. You would have had an immortal ally! Well, the power I’ve already gathered from the rest of your clan should be more than enough to make you kneel or remove you entirely. Either way, I still get what I want.” As she finishes her speech, she pulls her hands apart in a wave of ice magic. Shimmering portals from around the room open up as knights of pure ice march forth. The same wave of power breaks the glamor on the halflings seated around the room, revealing exhausted halflings held here, blinking in confusion and realizing how long they had been trapped here. The group moves to protect the halfings with Tormenoth taking point while blasts of magic from the rest keep smashing the endless waves of ice-knights. As waves are thinned out, the group tries targeting Chione herself, but something has linked her to a number of statues around the room such that they are shattered by magic trying to ensare her. The numbers of knights continue to ramp up to the point where some knights are able to capture some of the halflings despite the adventurers’ attempts to escort them from the throne room. Spells continue to wash over Chione, until the last is shattered, taking the magic in her stead. In desperation she pulls her cloak around herself, hiding within a block of ice. Eventually both sides begin to wear down, but the adventurers batter through her final icy defenses while getting the halflings away. In the moment the ice breaks, Rila dives forth to snatch the crown off Chione’s head. To Chione’s horror, this pauses the ritual and with no new knights to distract or shields to hide behind, Chione is laid low.. A ghostly Queen Mab appears with the visage of a wizened old fey woman, explaining her desire to restore her court to the mortal plane, offering to make whole the town and protect it as her own domain. The ghostly figure waves to the ice mirrors where visions of the future play. The mirror to her left shows a happy future after accepting or while behind her plays the increasingly dire future awaiting their refusal. Riila also sees to Mab’s right a vague/changing vision of something else, a third path? That is enough to spur her creativity and she declines Mab’s offer. Mab offers a sad shaking of her head before disappearing. Chione is stabilized and secured, her magical equipment taken.
Fight over and a ticking clock before the winter climate around the town snaps back to normal, the group heads back through the cabinets to thaw the rest of her family and get advice about a permanent solution. Rila talks to Thirtyclaw about magical and physical solutions but he is hesitant about how much power something like that would take. There might be enough gathered in that winter ritual but how to control it with the Winter Fey influencing it? The right spell could certainly keep a microclimate around the town going for a while. Leon asks Klythmnora but she doesn’t trust the Winter Court, and neither does Styx who was alive when they were still here. She explains how they fell to constant internal divisions, backstabbing, and treachery. Even amongst fey known for tricky dealings, the Winter Court was particularly cruel and malicious. Tormenoth and Ariel find a solid lawyer for the group to aid them in wording their dealings with the Fey, Hassan Miranda. They find a lawyer that fits their budget and is known for tough cases, if he is a bit direct. With a lawyer in tow, they return to question Chione. She cajoles and threatens, but finally tries to cut a deal. She knows that a fragment of Mab is in that crown, and she believes she is the only one that can lead a ritual to bring the cold back to the area. Her end of the bargain is to use that power to catapult herself to the fey-wilds with a title she can use to cement herself over there. It won’t be pretty though, Mab will fight to preserve that shard of herself from being consumed this way, and starting the ritual will crack the planar barrier enough, act as an invitation for Fey to step through. Their lawyer offers to hammer out the exact wording of the agreement with Chionne both for her cooperation and for the ritual itself. As they leave, he gives them a grinning thumbs up, turning back to Chione, “I see some of the weasel words and obfuscations you laid out in the opening agreement here, here, and here…”. Chione’s words of warning during the discussion have them preparing. If it goes wrong and Mab is able to come through, they’d have to get everyone out of the town to break the ritual, but they all have to be in town for the sympathetic magic of the ritual to have the strength needed until it is over.
It is a rush to prepare the town. The halfling and elven townsfolk are fortified into the manor, instructed to be ready to bolt for the town edge if things go sideways. Chione marks out her ritual circle and five reservoirs around the town as Leon sets up a circle of protection around where she will be casting. Their lawyer even pulls out a small club to defend himself or help adjust Chione’s wording on the fly as needed. With nothing to be helped by waiting, they instruct Chione to begin.
As soon as the first Arcadian word leaves her mouth, winter whips up around the town and a great rift appears. Crackling snow and ice split into a nebulous portal at the entrance to the town. Fey levies in Winter Court grays, blues, and purples pour out, leveling their spears to charge in. They make beelines for the magical reservoirs, disrupting them with a few stabs before the group spreads out to protect the magical anchors. Winds pick up, blasting the town with icy chill and winter horrors reminiscent of twisted beasts charging into the fray. Even as Chione slowly gathers power, the suicidal charges of the fey are draining it faster than she can build it up. The endless ranks come through with no worry about death as they dissipate back to the Fey Wilds. Just as they begin to stabilize with the aid of Rila’s summoned apes screening the anchors, Ariel has the breakthrough to capture those dissipating energies and shove them into the ritual.
The wind howls and the crack in reality grows wider and the Queen appears partially, as if obscured by a blizzard. “Secure them all until the Solstice, then do as you will with them, Lords and Ladies.” Leon takes the opportunity to fill the front gate with a Wall of Fire that cooks any lesser fey but a lordling steps through, introducing themself as Baroness of Sudden Flurries, drawing her long blade and diving into battle with Tormenoth. It isn’t long before the wind picks up again, but this time the portal fractures and the shockwave causes huge rents in the snow wall around the town that a new mass of levies and horrors charge through. Rila keeps her wits and tracks the movements of these new troops, but simply doesn’t have enough bodies to block them all as they come from every side. Leon falls back to assist Ariel and Rila while Tormenoth finishes off the Baroness with a Green Flame Blade flourish. The next fey to step through the fire is the Baron of Hungry Wolves. His arrival is joined by flanking winter horrors at the gaps in the wall. The beasts rush around the defenders to rip huge chunks of magic from the reservoirs. Tormenoth is forced to fall back to keep the Baron from having free access to an anchor so when a fell wind sweeps through town, there is no one at the gate to stop the fresh wave of levies when the wall of fire flickers out of existence. The protection circle around Chione holds back the winter horrors long enough for Rila and Leon to come to her defense before it too flickers out under the fell wind.
Out of position, the Baron seeks to move to an unguarded anchor but is struck down by Ariel’s eldritch magics. None of the group are close enough to retrieve the powerful fey spirit before it evaporates. They have more chances however, as two more lords emerge. Baroness of Ice Floes announces herself with a shout and a thrown boulder of ice. The Baron of Hidden Frostbite winds in between the defenders around Chione to take a stab at the self-styled Princess. The blows go wide as Tormenoth turns to face another foe, Rila calls in more summoned beasts, Leon moves to drop a new fire wall at the gate, and Ariel continues blasting minions away from the magical anchors. It is during this scramble that Chione calls out a completing ritual as one-by-one the reservoirs get pulled into the center circle. Both sides now scramble to protect or disrupt the remaining rituals, with the Baroness hucking huge boulders into one while the Baron makes one final attempt on Chione’s life. The Baron falls to an eldritch blast, pushing him into the central ritual as Tormenoth pushes the Baroness into the fire wall with his attacks. Overwhelmed, she falls to the flames, but Tormenoth wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to get her corpse in the central ritual or the remaining anchor. Thinking quickly, he drags her corpse as far as he can, tossing her to Leon. The cleric pulls on all the magic of his Boots of Speed to reach the Baroness’ body and puts it just in reach of the ritual circle, which Rila finishes pushing into the circle. In the small break as the winds pick up again, Leon spreads some healing around.
Howls sound around the town as fey creatures of all shapes and sizes push in through the gaps in the walls. Everyone regroups around Chione as the last words of magic leave her mouth. Everything goes still as she takes the crown out of the circle and with a single motion snaps it in half. As she does, she sees the bleed appearing on her cloak, those missed attacks by the Baron were faked, but luckily the healing from Leon kept her alive. The Princess is pulled into the ritual as a new crown appears atop her head. She whispers, her voice carried by a soft wind, “3 score and 6 years of true winter, as promised.”
Losing their invitation, the remaining fey fade into mist and the fey beasts make a hasty retreat back to the icy wilds. A few magical items were left behind by the fey as the group moved about town with their lawyer to survey the damages. Their magic is joined with the townsfolk’s concerted efforts to repair. Not forgetting about their concerns about a shapeshifter, they screen through all the halflings and elves during the repairs, but fail to find one until they find a second copy of their lawyer. Realizing the jig is up, the one they thought to be their lawyer, who had fought in the battle, reverts to his gray-skinned self with a handful of business cards. “I am Helix Mel, AKA Endymion the charming, method actor extraordinaire! Seeing as my previous employer is no longer on this plane of existence, I am sadly unlikely to be paid for this endeavor. However, one must keep apprised of new business opportunities, and I am sure an up and coming adventuring team may have need of the illustrious talents of one such as myself. I keep office in Bogoreka, third floor of the Grinning Cat Theatre.” The group gives this some serious thought, ideas of how to use a hired shapeshifter already coming to mind. They decide to hold off, but do agree to let him ride back with them. Rila disappears to go befriend a fey-touched polar bear that had appeared in the battle. When she returns, it is with an Awakened companion, Shawny, fey-touched polar bear. Without much else to do in town, they go to collect their lawyer to leave, but he decides to stay for a bit, he’s got a bunch of new clients that want wills, contracts, and the like drawn up.