Episode 94/95: The Palace of Ice, Part VIII
Competitive Party Trebuchet ended with Whisper, Keen, and Sirlius victorious but not before one trebuchet was completely destroyed and their opponent was knocked unconscious. Their unorthodox performance gained significant attention from other party-goers, and even a respectful nod from Towards the Within, one of the arch-fey that ruled the Winter Court.
The party’s boisterous celebrations brought them to the bar, where they were challenged by a group of pixies to a drinking contest. The bartender – a fey creature with the unfortunate name Horse’s Ass – served a series of increasingly disastrous concoctions chosen at random by the drinkers. Chaos ensued, as at various points the contestants were blinded, silenced, poisoned, cast into the ethereal plain, levitated, and reduced to uncontrollable giggles as a result of the strange drinks. One by one they succumbed to inebriation, alcohol poisoning, or both, until at last only Sirlius remained, and the party were declared the winners.
Very drunk and still suffering multiple deleterious magical effects from the drinks, the party elected to try to recover in the lounge area before confronting Mab. An entourage of curious partygoers now followed them, curious to see what they might do next.
While they rested, they were approached by an elderly human. Impeccably dressed, exuding an air of refinement but carrying lifetimes of sadness in the lines of his face, he introduced himself as Finec Hoyvall, and recited an old-fashioned formal greeting: “Come, sit by my fire and drink of my ale, and for this kindness tell me a tale.” He sat carefully upon the edge of an armchair, adjusting the bastard sword next to him.
There was something unnerving about the attention of this old man, and as he intoned these words Yuna and Ara were both reminded of old tales of Woden, the god of War and Justice, who was said to walk the planes as an old man carrying a very large sword. “Are you–” Yuna began, but locking eyes with the aasimar the man said firmly, “This evening, my name is Finec.” Understanding his meaning, Yuna nodded, though her eyes were wide as she realized they addressed one of the Five, the divine children of Bahamut.
This context was lost on the still-inebriated Sirlius, who took the old codger’s request in earnest and began to recount the party’s adventures in a rambling, breathless stream of consciousness that covered his initial meeting with Keen and friends in the sreets of Uman “to whom I was led by a dark power,” and progressing rapidly through cursed coinage, encounters with the Enigma of the Absolute – another arch-fey in attendance – Ara’s quest to recover the Five Fists of the Akiir, Keen dying repeatedly, and saving the city from an invasion of demons by capturing and riding a fire demon using an Iron Flask.
As Sirlius’s performance became more and more animated, Whisper accented and punctuated his words with sound effects and the mimicking of demonic howls. The audience of partygoers grew around them, listening to this preposterous but somehow convincing story. “Finec” asked a few pointed, insightful questions, seemingly in an attempt to draw together some threads connecting these disjointed adventures. Sirlius concluded his tale before mentioning outright the shards of the heart of Bahamut, Woden’s mother, though whether this was intentional or not none could say.
In the end, Woden declared the party was either “nothing but a bunch of bumbling idiots, or not,” and one of these was very dangerous indeed. He sighed heavily, seemingly having decided for himself the truth, and confided telepathically to the party that he was in attendance at the party not as a guest but as “one who would observe this beginning, for war begins this night, here in this place.” Finec made his public goodbyes to the Sirlius and his friends, and taking his leave melded into the crowd, leaving a more somber and serious group of adventurers in his wake.
The group of listeners broke up and went back to their own smaller groups, but it was clear that the party was now the subject of all conversation. At this time they were approached by a fey giant carrying a very large, very intimidating halbred. The softspoken man addressed them politely, and conveyed an invitation from the Winter Queen to attend her at the Queen’s Table at their convenience. Yuna haltingly thanked the giant, and asked him to convey the party’s thanks to the Queen, and their intent to visit her presently. Their display of guile, cunning, fortitude and curious luck in the evening’s festivities had done its job.
The party did their best to sober up, and an hour later made the long climb of stairs to the top tier of the Winter Palace, a long train of curious followers in tow, As they reached the final landing before the ascent to the Queen’s Table, they were queued behind a loud, drunken Eladrin who was making outraged demands to be permitted an audience of the queen. The same Fey Giant who had conveyed the Queen’s invitation to the party regarded the lout passively, until the elf moved a hand towards his rapier. Before his fingers event brushed the hilt, the giant’s halbred had split the unfortunate man in twain, and the two halves of his body fell apart in a sickening mess. Nonplussed, the giant nudged one half to the side with a large boot, regarded the stunned party, and shrugged. “No invitation. You can go up.”
At the top of the final flight of stairs, the party emerged onto a stone bridge arching over a large pool of gelatinous ice. The multiple tiers of the Palace of Ice fell away behind them, and they found before them a large, manicured garden in which the plants, flowers and trees were all living ice. They wound around and about connected pools of gelatinous ice fed by a waterfall at the far end of the space. Before the waterfall, set upon a circular dais some fifty feet in diameter, was the Queen’s Table: a semi-circular banquet table at which sat no less than six Arch-Fey. The party recognized both the Enigma of the Absolute and Towards the Within. At the head of the table, lounging sideways across her throne, was the Queen of Winter. In her hand was a staff, atop which orbited a shard of the heart of Bahamut.
The Queen welcomed the party, beckoning them forward until they stood before the dais. As they spoke, the party realized that the Queen was absolutely insane. Moreover, the other arch-fey at the table were, one and all, terrified of her; cowed into silence. Only Enigma of the Absolute, Master of the Hunt, seemed willing to engage the Winter Queen at all, and even he flinched at her displeasure.
Yuna nervously engaged the Queen in conversation as the party tried to identify a path to Keen grasping the shard. Thanks in no small part to the prestige gained by the adventurers by gate-crashing the Winter Queen’s through the palace dungeon, slaying a gelatinous dracolich, and defeating all social challengers, the Queen was perhaps more taken with the party than she might have been otherwise, and willingly spoke on a number of topics, though she seemed inordinately fascinated with Sirlius. The warlock carefully, politely explained that his rabbit ears were due to an unfortunate encounter with the Enigma of the Absolute. The Queen thought this was delicious, and instructed the Enigma of the Absolute – her brother – to undo the effect, seemingly just to irritate him. The arch-fey was indeed irritated, but unwilling to challenge his Queen, and complied. Sirlius struggled to retain is composure as he realized this violation had been undone.
At this point, the Enigma of the Absolute cryptically reminded the Queen of Winter that they needed to “complete a delivery.” The queen seemed bored by this, but relented, and with a wave of his hand the Enigma of the Absolute revealed the presence of eight tieflings standing at the edge of the dais just above the party. They were dressed identically, in long oxblood-colored robes and wearing solid porcelain masks carved into expressions of orgiastic ecstasy. The queen told the party that these tieflings were a gift for a “colleague” who had an abiding interest in both planar mechanics and a knowledge known as “genetics,” a study with which none of them were familiar.
Realizing that the robes were the same as those worn by the cultists that attacked the city of Uman, Yuna asked if this colleague might be Graz’zt, who was mentioned by a cultist during that conflict. The Queen chastised Yuna for her impropriety and refused to elaborate. The Enigma of the Absolute then completed a ritual casting and opened a strange portal through which stepped another such cultist, similarly robed and masked. But as she stepped through, the party instantly recognized the presence of their longtime absent friend, Levani. Though they rejoiced at this unexpected reunion and reached out to their friend via the residium binding telepathic link, she would not or could not respond. She bowed, addressed the Queen of Winter and said “My master stands ready to receive your gift, and I serve at your pleasure.”
The party attempted to draw out details about this transaction from the Queen, who was willing to say only that the tiefling race was inexplicably bound to the fabric of the realms, and that these tieflings in particular, coming as they did from the Outpost, had a unique ability that was crucial to her colleague’s “research.”
The masked tieflings began to walk towards the portal, but Sirlius interposed himself between them and it, attempting to prevent them from leaving. Levani stepped to one side and cast Thunder Wave on the warlock, and as one the tieflings unsheathed scimitars and attacked. At the same moment, Magnus spied the one thing he had been seeking since entering the Winter Palace: a small black lily, nestled in the centre of a large decorative planter. He raced forward, plucked it, and ate it. His body raised into the air as a black void spilled from him. A triumphant, horrifying laughter echoed through the void, and as it winked out of existence there stood Nettie Blackfingers.
Several things happened in unison then: Magnus collapsed at the feet of the hag, unconscious. The arch-fey at the table one and all vanished through dimension doors, and the Queen of Winter shrieked in horror as Nettie’s laughter continued. “No! It’s not possible!” the Queen screamed, “The Throne is mine! Mine! I took it!” Nettie’s laughter continued as her wrinkled, hobbled form fell away and her owlbear cloak and skins dissolving. In a moment, before them stood not Nettie Blackfingers, winter hag, but Mab – the true Queen of Winter, radiant and terrifying in the black of a winter storm.
Mab turned her furious gaze upon the false queen. “Yours? Yours, Dreams Made Flesh, Lady of Stars? Yours, Vandrigellith of Winter’s Grasp? No, daughter. Winter always was, and shall remain, MINE.” As Mab spoke her daughter’s True Name the arch-fey froze in place, powerless. The Enigma of the Absolute then reappeared next to Mab, yelled something at her none of the party could hear, and a fierce contest of raw arcane engergy unveiled around them.
The remaining fey thus preoccupied, the party fended off the attacks of the 8 tieflings and their erstwhile companion. Yuna raced forward and shook Magnus awake. Whisper unleashed a barrage of arrows at Levani, who wove spells against the party. Magnus grabbed one tiefling and ripped the mask from their face in the hopes of ending whatever enchantment held them, but to no effect. Sirlius was mobbed by multiple scimitar-wielding attackers, and Ara dueled another.
Keen raced forward to try and grab the shard of the heart of Bahamut while Mab was preoccupied, threw himself into the torrent of raw magical energy surrounding the fey. His mind suffered a blast of psychic damage as he passed through the field but his momentum carried him through and for a brief moment he saw Mab and The Enigma of the Absolute engaged in an arcane contest of wills floating in what appeared to be the Astral Sea before reaching out to place his hand upon the shard of the Heart of Bahamut…
Reveal Status: Big!
Battle Size: Boss!
Danger Levels: Experimental
RP Rating: Awesome!