When the party returned to the surface, they found an unpleasant surprise waiting for them: the sounds of creaking wood, bestial laughter and the angry roars of their rouk signaled the caprans that had pursued them into the ruins had found the wagon and brought it back to the fortress to loot. Peering from beneath the flagstones they watched as half a dozen caprans ransacked the wagon until a shower of crumbs from above drew their attention to a massive beast-man sitting on the edge of the fountain directly overhead, chewing on a loaf of bread from their own rations. There was nothing for it but to attack immediately.
The fight was a nasty one, with the band having to force their way one by one past the capran brute and his mighty flail to fight the lesser beast-men. Hadarai dueled with the archers and a beast-man witch-doctor who used his ritual sickle-staff to open bleeding wounds from a distance while archers pelted Vorlakk with arrows and spear-wielding caprans attempted to flank the barbarian and those fighting the brute. Eventually nearly all the beasts were felled, the last of the archers leaping from the wagon to flee, only to be struck down by Halgar’s arrows while the brute fled into the feywild through one of the unstable portals littering the ruins. The band pursued, and the beast was finally brought down in the crystaline corridors of the ice palace.
Cautiously the party moved down the corridor, the struggle between icy winter-touched guardians and the violent wilds beyond sealed away beyond sheets of ice like stained glass. Eventually the passage emerged into the vast central chamber of the fortress. Two great spiral staircases twisted ‘round the central column of the room, rising through two floors of balconies to disappear into the tower above. The snow-dusted floor featured a handfull of crude tents apparently belonging to the defeated caprans. While Vorlakk looted (discovering a handfull of coin and a small crystal vial containing a healing potion) arrows whistled down from above, and sharp eyes spotted cloaked figures moving along the highest balconies before disappearing up the stairs.
Advancing upwards, the first to emerge from the stairs was confronted by a trio of short, swarthy satyr-like creatures armed with shillelaghs and a lone elf-like creature with a triangular face and strange chitinous skin. Kat came forward to attempt to parley, but when the grig pointed out that the party had trespassed on their home the paladin stated that assassins had been sent after some of their members (indicating Hadarai, as Nala and Tim had remained below to lay Framboise to rest), the grig’s response was to stare at the wizard for a moment and then give the curt order, “Kill them all.” The grig then extended a mantis-like blade from it’s forearm and set it against it’s other arm, and proceeded to produce a tune as if on a fiddle. To the accompaniment of a rousing jig, the korred descended on the party. No sooner had the dancers been engaged than the grig shifted it’s tune, calling forth swarms of frost-sprites who proceeded to fill the confined space with a howling blizzard before attempting to encase in ice anyone they could reach. The dragonforged ardent fell to the combined assault, followed quickly by the paladin. Thankfully Tim and Nala appeared on the stairs just in time to save the day with sharp commands and blessed healing. Before the grig was finally slain, though, he played a horrid screeching tune that dazed all those nearby. The tune seemed to resonate around the room, ice creaking in protest, until the entire ceiling above began to collapse as the last fey fell.
The band was able to find shelter under one side of the tower, less heavily reinforced with enchanted ice. While waiting for the dust to settle, a scroll was discovered along with other water-damaged papers on a makeshift desk tucked into one corner of the tower. Though most of it had been rendered illegible when the ice used to seal it melted, a few lines remained clear:
“Your .. of progress disappoints me ….
.... the trods must be clear before Sehanine blinks again ….
bring in more … if you must ….
.... watched closely lest ….”
When the tower finally ceased it’s crumbling and the dust had settled, the party moved to the stairs, still mostly intact, moving upwards again. As soon as Kat’s head rose above the floor above more arrows rained down, one finding it’s mark painfully. The intact lower floors of the tower had crumbled under the grig’s tune or had yet to be repaired, leaving more than half the room the group emerged into open to the floor below. Several eladrin in Winter-forged armor stood arrayed on a sliver of floor above, linked to that below by a thin ramp of ice along one wall. Bound in chains of ice over the open space between the floors was a huge blue crystal that Hadarai identified as a Heart of Winter, an arcane power source used to fuel the reconstruction of the fortress. Halgar rushed forward to fire on the eladrin snipers, only to have one of the fey swordsmen disappear in a gust of snow and reappear behind him, kicking the half-orc off the ledge to fall back to the room below. Then a huge satyr clad in ice-blue plate appeared between the eladrin above, declaring in a booming voice that if the intruders turned and left now they would be allowed to live. This drew a chorus of protest from the group, who pointed out again that the fey had sent assassins against them. The satyr shook his head, stating he had no grievance with them until they came to slay his hirelings, servants and friends.. and was promptly pulled from his high perch by Kat’s divine magic, falling thirty feet to the floor below next to Halgar. More frost sprites emerged from the ice-shrouded walls and once again the world was obscured in blizzard.
The battle quickly split, with Vorlakk and Tim moving to assault the archers and swordsmen on the upper level while Kat and the ardent-forged moved to assist Halgar against the satyr. Jeton, Hadarai and Nala remained on the middle floor fighting the swordsman who had pushed Halgar from the ledge and the swarming sprites. Seeing the satyr laying his friends low with mighty blows and bolts of ice from the Heart high above, Vorlakk let out a furious battle cry and fell frothing upon him, bloodying the beast. Through the combined efforts of Hadarai, Jeton and Tim the sprites were slain and the snipers driven off, though not before Hadarai was brought down by half a dozen well placed shots.
When the satyr was finally slain, the great crystal above cracked with an ominous report, and the band moved to flee before the tower began to collapse. Hadarai struggled against Vorlakk’s efforts to rescue him, insisting that he could use the Heart to stabilize the fortress and perhaps the portals around it. Spying the enchanted crystal at the core of the Heart, exposed by the cracking, he decided instead to pour mystic fire into the ice to destroy it and retrieve the crystal so that it could be remade for his own purposes.. and with the destruction of the Heart of Winter, the tower did shudder and begin to collapse. With moments to spare, the party spilled from the portals below, chased by the swirling snow raised by the tower’s destruction.
Though the forces of Winter have been driven from Nimgalen, the expedition has raised more questions than it answered. Most important of all being: what now?