Anxious to figure out what is going on, Rila splits off to research this letter from her parents. At the same time, Tormenoth takes some time to investigate the Iron Tusks mentioned in his Black Tally Society note, Leon goes to talk with Styx, and Ariel does some reading on the Green Meditation on Wisdom. It turns out that “Blessings of Winter” is an archaic greeting for unexpected guests during the winter months, a practice that came about because the winter court of fae would sometimes visit random people; then show great anger if not treated with the respect they believed due. The Winter Court is thought abandoned with the death of the queen and her heirs a long time ago. It is definitely unusual coming from her parents, so Rila decides to ignore the request in her parents’ letter to do more digging. Tormenoth’s research with some of the history teaching assistants in the library reveals that Huron was the leader of the Iron Tusk Raiders before being a general for the Akshi, did lots of raiding as part of their contracts, looting, and taking as mercenaries. He continued his lenient policies towards looting as a general. Something that Tormenoth will take into account as he considers his response to the Black Tally Society.
Leon's paladin rival uses the encounter to hand him an invite to a benefit dinner he is putting on to raise some money for some minor flooding that damaged their hometown. He has paid for the costly invites for Leon and his whole team, knowing that Leon doesn’t have the same resources he does. When Leon gets to Styx, he spends the time getting her advice on necromancy and related magic. During the conversation she lets slip that Klythmnora is missing and likely pursuing the dracolich ritual on her own. He quickly offers to help and that he’ll pass on the message to his team. Ariel discovers that the Green Meditation is personalized to the morality of each individual, scored based on how the team reacts to solve the problems presented to them.
With the whole team together at Styx’s cave, she ushers them through the portal to her manor where she explains that she has been tracking auctions of rare ingredients. There are only so many ways to pursue llichdom, and a frontier town in Zhelaza has been making discrete purchases. She’ll be taking the group in her private carriage to the town of Williamsburg. With nothing to prepare, they set out immediately. Styx stays quiet most of the ride that takes an entire day, thanks to her undead horses that Prince drives through the night.
During the ride, Leon has a fitful night of sleep with weird dreams. In those dreams he sees many paths leading off into a sunrise. Some of them have people walking towards the sun wearing robes, some in full armor, and others simple pilgrims or everyday folk. Leon looks down to see himself at a point where he could walk down any of those same paths the others are walking, but he also sees a new but unused path hidden to the side, a rune inscribed bone sticking up from the gravel. His restlessness is ended when the team finally pulls up to the dusty frontier town of Williamsburg. This town is reclusive and host mainly to the hangers-on of miners and loggers that still think they can turn around economies to make this a boom town again.
Styx stops at Britney’s Hovel, a brothel and boarding house in the center of town to get the group some rooms. The first person to greet the group is a tall man in a trenchcoat with a bit of a cough. He introduces himself as Sheriff Hu and when the group mentions that they are here looking for someone, he grumbles and gives them a stare. “You had best keep things polite, quick, and trouble-free,” he levels, “ we aren’t looking for excitement or interest out here.” As he walks away, the group takes a look at the town, finding it very quiet for the number of well-built houses. There is a pawn shop, sheriff’s office, and a general store, but little in the way of entertainment or the kind of run-down buildings you might see in a struggling town. They also overhear Hu whispering to a young man about medicine. With few leads to pursue they follow the kid to a house on the outskirts of town. The house has a locked front door with a delivery slot that hands out a paperbag to the young man. Unfortunately their spying was noticed and a old gnomish man waves them into his house.
He introduces himself as the Candyman while ushering them towards his kitchen which smells of delicious sweets. Curiously, his furniture and house is sized for a human, which he complains about as he makes small talk and takes out some fresh candies from the oven. He references his own baking skills mentioning how many poisons he could hide in his candies without anyone noticing, were he of a mind too. Cautious, the group reluctantly takes a few candies to snack on while asking about the latest rumors around town. What they learn is that the miners and loggers have been having trouble with harpies lately up in the mountains and that there used to be an old manor up in the valley in those mountains. The Candyman bids them farewell with a creepy smile and a reminder that he’s had his share of excitement in his life, not needing any more.
When the group arrives back at Britney’s Hovel to confer with Styx, they find her with a full table of food and drink. She beckons them over and they start to confer. They tell her about what they learned about the mountain and then she sets in to start explaining what she’s gathered with magical rituals. There is a large amount of chaotic and disrupting magic floating around the town, and it matches up with their findings, as the cause of it is somewhere up in the mountains. While she is explaining, Leon notices a strange robed man that waves him over to talk. The robed man speaks in a weird cadence, “A faithful heathen learning from an apostate/ Death is a facet of life, like so many necromancers I set out to control death / You are connected to so many interesting people, paladins, clerics, angels, demons, and even the queen of schemers. / If they are going to meddle into the mortal realm, I figure I may as well / You see, my worshippers, aside from the cults that spring up like mushrooms after a storm, tend to become stale, their hierarchies… rotten / I don't expect or want you to convert, and if Lathander is going to use you to test the waters on opening up his doctrine, why can't I? / You can always check with the big guy, but consider this a strange partnership deal.” Leon asks him some follow-ups, but the robes man gives minimal details. He relays to Leon that he is looking for aid and will follow up with details in the future if Leon is open to working with him.
With some direction of where to go, the group wants to rest up then head out in the morning. When they leave, they find a note on Styx’s door saying that she is going to pursue her own path on dealing with this disruptive magic, but she is leaving behind a small cache of potions and scrolls. Before long, the group has trekked up the mountain with only a bit of directions from some loggers heading out. They point out two viable paths to the valley, either through the caves with harpies or up the mountain pass that has had yeti sightings lately. Choosing the uncertain path over the guaranteed danger, the adventurers trek up towards the mountain pass.
Crossing over the treeline, the first challenge of the mountain pass presents itself. The pathway further up is partially collapsed. With the aid of magic to boost their jumping skills, the group hops across the broken rocks to get across. The mountain dips down to a area of cracked glaciers, with a narrow winding ravine between the ice that they head through. The unstable ice looks treacherous, so Leon gives everyone Water Walking to protect against sliding around, making navigating the ice trivial. When they exit the glacier ravine, a swift climb takes them to the peak of the mountains. Surrounded by clouds, the winds whip past them, chilling them to their bones. Without wasting time, they take a direct path across the windswept peak to the other side, not worrying about the echoing roars, ignoring the cold. Down the other side, they climb down and around the steep declines from the peak, with water walking continuing to help negate the dangers of slippery ice. As they begin the descent in earnest, the wind whipping up from the valley is warmer and humid. This has created a field of almost horizontal, razor-sharp icicles in a random maze that must be navigated through to reach the path down to the valley. With Tormenoth in front behind his shield and Ariel blasting the tips off of icicles that he misses, the group blazes a path down to the warmer valley below.
Standing high above, the panorama of verdant greenery is a welcome sight to the chilled adventurers who hurry down the path. Before long though, the logging path becomes a deer trail which turns into nothing. Through the trees, a little bit of a crumbling old manor can be seen on a small hill in the valley. They approach carefully to find some still standing statues and topiaries along with the remaining foundation, a few brick walls, and a chimney. When they get close a horse topiary lunges, but they put it down quickly. It is too loud though and this garners more attention as other evergreen topiaries attack, with a spider creating webs, a large dolphin diving through the long grasses, a dragon turtle stomps forward, and a triceratops breaks up their formation with charges while a poisonous moth floats above. Leon gets swallowed by the dolphin but makes quick work of it from the inside. The group focuses on the triceratops first while letting the spider set its webs and the turtle slowly advance. By the time it is finished off, Leon is on the other side of the webs and the group faces down the large dragon turtle. Tormenoth tanks it while Ariel and Rila burn the moth out of the sky. Bloodied, the group turns to flank and finish off the remaining topiary, the spider. When the noise of combat dies down, they can hear movement from the east. Leon checks it out to find moving statues patrolling a lower courtyard, but with the stairs ruined they are unable to get out. Rila almost falls as part of the walkway gives way, but narrowly avoids tumbling down. On the other end of the courtyard is an overgrown gatehouse, where they find an inscription of greeting from Klythmnora when they circle around. With this bit of confirmation, they are certain they are in the right place and return to the manor foundations to search for a way down. Investigating the old chimney stack, they find that it doesn’t just have old fireplace holes on the aboveground floors, but it also extends down below to a basement. Climbing down into the dusty darkness, the group readies for what is below.
The basement still holds the old, primitive style traps of what used to live here. Swinging spike walls and tripwires hide amongst the clutter and junk. Heading north the group finds a room of broken statuary, some pieces of which are still ambulatory. Moving to the next room, they are not fooled by a statue standing still, and they blast it to pieces without letting it get a sneaky swing of its axe in. When it is dead though, they can hear movement in the basement. Checking the next door, they catch the tail end of a door closing at the other end. A chase ensues and when they finally catch sight of the creature, it is a cherub statue. Although they don’t do so before it leads them through trapped rooms and doorways. It continues to flee, but Leon summons some shadowy kobolds from the mysterious egg to cut it off. When it realizes it is cornered, it breaks through the minions to take a door to the east. The room is full of old machinery and printing presses, but the floor is littered with bear traps. Not wanting to rush in, the group comes together to cast a few spells before Rila takes an acrobatic path using the machinery to avoid the floor. When she is successful, the rest of the group follows to the next room with another door slightly ajar and lots of cabinetry. Leon holds the group back to search the room before moving on and possibly triggering another trap. Pausing, he can hear rustling in one of the large cabinets, so he gathers the group to capture the statue with a chain. Rila helpfully closes both doors. Pulling open the door, Tormenoth and Leon find a rigid statue, but disbelieving it, wrap it tightly in chains. The cherub statue gives up the act and tries to plead, although unable to speak it does so through gestures and facial expressions. Leon bargains with it to work for him and it readily agrees before he puts it in his bag of holding for later.
With the statue captured and no other seeming hostiles, the group opens the door to the next room. They find it a simple room of tiles, walls, floor, and ceiling with a door on each of the other walls. When Tormenoth steps into the room, the door shuts behind the four of them, and reopening it, the door now seems to lead magically to the door on the opposite wall. After a bit of testing, the north and south doors are connected and the west and east doors are connected. They try firing spells, throwing objects, moving back and forth but nothing seems to break the connections. When Tormenoth takes a weapon to the stonework, they find that the doors are illusions covering a thin magical portal just in front of a blank stone wall. Trying the backsides of those portals just leads to the backside of the opposite portal. Frustrated, the group starts tearing up more tilework, discovering that under the floor tiles there is another door. WHen they test this one, the tile they drop falls from the ceiling, looping until it lands on solid ground. Rila tests this portal by dangling down through it but it still just leads to the ceiling, appearing as if emerging through the tiled ceiling. This inspires Ariel to start blasting the ceiling, revealing a sixth portal in the room. When Tormenoth boosts her through it, she does not appear in the floor, but rather disappears from sight. The rest of the group follows suit and find themselves back in the previous room, pushing up through a wooden trapdoor in its floor. They close the trapdoor and breathe a sigh of relief.
With enemies gone, the group sets out to finish exploring the basement. They find a couple other entrances to the surface, one still holds a few skeletons of dead harpies impaled on traps. Another room is littered with junk and humanoid bones that begin to animate when they search the room. Leon notices quickly enough that they retreat and shut the door behind them just after Rila centers a Moonbeam spell on the doorway. The bone construct burns and collapses under the magic as it tries to batter the door down. Leon peeks back inside and finds a dagger stabbed through a note hidden under the junk. Under it is a bag of coins and a note that reads “OUR COIN FOR OUR REVENGE”. The last unexplored room they find has a dragonborn statue holding a polearm that has been chained to the wall behind a large stone chest. Leon takes a hammer blow from its attack when he tries to investigate the chest. The group responds with a volley of magic from the doorway until it is reduced to dust. Inside the chest, Leon finds a few minor treasures and scrolls.
Adjacent to the dusted statue’s room is a rotted wine cellar with a few barrels that still seem water-tight. Investigating the surprisingly surviving barrels reveals one to be a false front to a stairway down. Taking the steps down, they find themselves in the same lair they had explored from the safety of SSM before, Klythnmnora’s lair. Strangely though, the stonework has taken on tinges of blue, there appear to be slightly raised scales in the stone texture, and the whole place is ice-cold.
Eldritch magic warps the place, but they take the secret tribute entrance they used before to go straight to Klyth’s workshop. On the way, they find a shimmering portal of chaos that they decide to leave alone, not being able to identify it. She explains that she is at the wrong point in her ritual to break concentration, so all she can do is to keep up a barrier, but if she could finish this step, she could pause things to deal with the magic going on. She gives the group a protective bubble to rest for a bit before she sends them to close the eldritch portals she can sense around her lair.
They head back to close the first one, and all it takes is a few magic spells that they hurriedly supply when they sense something trying to push through. As the first one closes, a massive wave of flesh materializes, like a tide of scales sprinkled with eyes of all shapes and sizes. It rolls forward to crush Tormenoth but he pushes against it with his shield and uses the momentum to dodge its bulk. The group lashes out at the beast with spells and attacks while it reorients to pick a new target. Ariel and Leon are close enough together that it lurches forward to charge at them, slamming into them. Seeing the danger, the group shouts a quick strategy to spread out around the room. When it picks its next target, Leon is closest, but he tries a last ditch Flare spell to try and blind the thing so he can evade. It works better than expected as all the things eyes dilate and then shut hard. As the group continues to blast it, it charges wildly around the room, only coming close to striking one of them a couple times before they finally blast apart enough of its mass that it begins to disintegrate. While its main form dissolves into nothingness, returning to its home plane, the chunks and eyes it lost during the fight continue to wriggle and squirm around the room. Leon’s Toll of the Dead spell was effective against the thing, so he takes the lead on clean up, killing all the eyeballs splattered around the room.
Covered in gore, the group moves out to explore the hallways for more portals. The main corridor starts closing around Leon as he moves into it. They back out and after a bit, it starts to reopen again. The stonework scales squeeze in fast enough that only one person could make it across before it would be dangerous. One at a time they cross. From the next room, the search for the friendly ratfolk they met in mushroom pits, but inside they find only flash-frozen corpses surrounded by frozen-over pools of acid. The ratfolk are frozen in running poses. Rila tests the ice and finds it fragile, so she finds a route across that all but Tormenoth are able to copy without harm. Looping around to the north, the group pursues murmurs they can hear in that direction. After coming around the final bend, they find a yellow-cloaked humanoid fungus upon a fungal throne talking in riddles. As they try to decode its riddle-speak, they start coughing from the thick cloud of spores surrounding it. Speaking with it more, the only coherent information they get from it is that it tends to mention an Ig-Beithir. They push past the mad creature when they realize that nothing they say seems to register with the creature.
In the next room is where they freed and dealt with a devil before, but now it appears to be floating in space surrounded by stars, with another portal. WIthout hesitation, the group unloads magic at the portal, destabilizing it. As they do, a monstrous cry can be heard echoing in the dungeon, but nothing appears from this portal. To the south, they find yet another portal inside a rusted jail cell. They are wary of the bone piles inside the cell so they blast the portal from a distance. This time the cry they hear comes from the North, leading to a whispered debate about taking the south or north hallway on the east side of the room. Heading back through the ice-acid room wins the debate.
Opening the door, they find a large, insectoid creature with spiny back legs constantly rubbing together in a discordant cacophony. WHen they engage the creature, it charges through the fragile ice and slashes Tormenoth for a great deal of damage, while inflicting anguish in the group as the cricket-song reaches a fever pitch. Leon takes the vanguard position to hold the door as the group flees to the south past the jail cell again. THey remember that the storage room this way had a secret passage that might be useful to evade this monster and shatter the portals without having to fight.
As they close the double doors behind them, they find mutated, albino rats waiting in the storage room. The creatures leap to attack but are dispatched quickly. When the group takes time to move barrels out of the way of the secret passage, hostile serpentine spirits leave the corpses and lunge to attack. They keep trying to plunge head first into the bellies of the adventurers but are rebuffed or dodged at every turn. While the spirits were unable to do much harm, the cricket creature has caught up and begins battering the doors. Something else is outside the doors with it, helping its efforts. They stick around, hoping to use the choke point to fight, but when the creatures burst in, the new monster is not another cricket-thing, but is a humanoid snake with five eyeless heads, flicking tongues, and long, dripping talons. Lunging with its five heads and slashing with its talons, the new monster hits too hard for the group to fight, so they retreat into the tight passageway. The snake creature tries to reach in and slash but can’t reach the group. Before long, the monsters slink away out of sight.
On the other side of the secret passage is a large cathedral overgrown with veins branching out from a blood fountain at the top of the dais. Upon that dais is a writhing humanoid creature bleeding endlessly into the fountain it rests in. An ornate dagger sits on a plinth nearby. As the group stumbles into the room, they see the veins grow over the doorway they entered as well as the other doors leading out of the room. They await the creature’s aggression but when it fails to materialize, they start investigating. Leon uses more shadowy kobolds from the multi-colored egg to drag the creature closer, hoping to avoid the backlash the group expects once they start fighting. With the dagger, he strikes true and the creature dies. The veins branching from its body quickly wither away, exposing the doors, and ceasing the flow of blood in the fountain. When Tormenoth opens the north door to peek out for monsters he finds a new one, this one a mass of writhing, whip-like tongues making up a beastly shape. The size of the creature fills the entire corridor as it shambles around, leaving a trail of glistening slime. He carefully and quietly shuts the door but doesn’t hear any sounds of pursuit.
Rila, Leon, and Ariel peek out through a crack in the door and wait for the creature to hit the end of the hallway. WHile it is turning its bulk around, they sneak around the corner to a small room. Shutting the door to avoid notice, they turn around to see another portal. The three of them unload magics into the portal, shattering it as another howl echoes through the lair. They hear it from the south while Tormenoth, still in the cathedral, hears it to his east. As the howl subsides, the group hears the slimy monster outside the door and it begins to push inside. With a last-second change of plans, Leon decides not to hold the door and the three of them spread out to the far corners of the room. When the wet, limp appendages of the creature push into the room the brush about aimlessly, narrowly missing Leon hiding behind the door, and then move back out into the corridor. Certain that the creature is blind, they wait for it to move down the corridor to the east before sprinting back to join Tormenoth in the cathedral.
The group decides to leave the blind monstrosity alone, trying the other door to the east. Behind this door is a short corridor containing yet another yellow fungal humanoid atop a throne, but this one doesn’t seem to be surrounded by spores like the other. Wary of giving time to another nonsense spouting mushroom, they stand back while testing it with some questions. Only slightly more coherent than the last one, they try to get it to answer questions about the Ig-Beith that the other one mentioned, thinking that this one might be the Ig-Beith hated so much by the other fungus man. On hearing the name though, it begins to shrivel up and even its chair withers until the corridor is left empty save for a bit of yellow dust. In the room beyond, Leon is the first to lay eyes upon yet another portal. Dispatched like all the others, the group looks around to see a trail of drool out of this room heading north. The twisted stonework and chillin the lair begins to revert, and all the monsters let out a piercing wail. Just as the last bits of the portal close, another portal can be seen on the other side with a white dragon's angry face leering at the group.
The group peeks out of the room to see the slimy tentacle monstrosity visibly weakened along with a limping new monstrosity. This new creature is a hunch-backed humanoid with too many joints and a blank face ending in a long beard of tongues hanging down to the floor. With little choice, the group engages. Rila summons in a pair of wolves to distract the monsters as they all take turns blasting the creatures. Much weakened, the wolves keep the attention of the horrors until they are blasted to pieces. On their deaths, they fold in on themselves before twisting into nothingness. The sounds of this battle draw the attention of the cricket chirper who is followed shortly by the cobra-headed monster. While Rila does have to resummon wolves to fight these creatures, they are significantly weaker than before, falling to blade and spell.
With the battle won, Ariel takes a moment to open the door to Klythmnora’s lab, who is happy to see them. Klythmnora confirms that the portals have all been destroyed, and the otherworldly taint destroyed. She mentions that she’ll need help cleaning up any stragglers if the adventurers are willing to do that while she gets her ritual to a safe stopping point now that her focus isn’t being split. They heartily agree and spread out to track down some lingering snake-spirits that had fled inside the rat nests in the secret hallway.
When the group returns, Klythmnora lowers her laboratory’s shielding. She apologizes for being misleading earlier when they first woke her up in the lair, but she does have a better stash of treasures below, which she offers some of to the group for their aid. Ariel selects a wand for more potent magical channeling that can even empower her spells with bits of her health. Tormenoth trades his existing plate armor for a better set of Adamantine plate armor. Leon selects boots of speed and Rila takes some stealthy elven boots. Styx shows up not long after they come back out of Klythmnora’s treasure storage, claiming victory over the mage casting the disrupting ritual. Prince, her undead servant, is missing his entire shield arm, but Styx downplays this as her having gotten careless. With everything sorted, she loudly proclaims that she is heading back down the mountain for her nice warm, rented bed.
Heading back to town, the group opts for the shorter route through the harpy cave, and with Klythmnora in tow, the harpies make no hostile moves against the group, even as Leon reasons out the meaning in the note he found in the dungeon. Ratfolk were killed by harpies and left a note for revenge. Something for another time…
In town, things are in uproar as the town has been attacked by yeti’s during the group’s absence and a few of the brothel workers were kidnapped. Plenty of dead yeti’s are piled up in town, but the sheriff and the candy man aren’t having any of it. They reason that these adventurers brought excitement to this town, against their express wishes. The group is exiled from town and given a few hours to gather their things then leave. Glancing over the bodies, the yeti’s look to have been killed with great skill then hacked at to cover up the skillful kills. The town isn’t without understanding though, so they do let the group retrieve their belongings while their carriage is readied. Not wanting to cause more problems by intervening, it is decided to start the trip back to their homes. Climbing back into Styx’s luxury carriage, they settle in for a long ride.