Jonesomon (Specialist 5)
Ranza (Changeling 4)
Gnarl (Wood Gnome 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Hobbs (Hedgefey 5)
Thrax (Fighter 4)
Vegarious (Changeling 3)
The party (less Thrax and Ranza) stood their ground as the two figures approached. The pair were women, tall and dressed in black leather, while overhead circled a small flock of ravens. Once close enough, the two assumed a wary, but not threatening, stance and greeted the party. After some puzzlement about the tree, and inquiry into the party's business here in the ruined fortress, the two invited them back to the large tower to meet with their leader, the Queen of Ravens. The party demurred for now, interested more in getting the tree back to Allisan and ensuring Ranza was going to survive. The women allowed them to leave without interference, but instructed them to come see the Queen next time they visited the fortress. Meanwhile, while the women were distracted by the conversation, Gnarl had slyly cast charm animal and speak with animal on one of the ravens to learn more. He got the impression from the corvid that the Queen meant the party no harm. But she feared both the shadow powers and the shapeshifters, and might be looking for allies to support her. He also learned something of the rest of the fortress; that the creatures of shadow dwelt somewhere below, a fomorian giant named Shangrat lived in the most distant square tower, and some mysterious ancient power inhabited the strange twin tower next to the wood.
Taking leave of the women, the party descended the switch back road once more. They were rejoined by the speedy Thrax, who had successfully delivered the stricken Ranza into the care of Allisan and Mikan. And reassured Mikan that the healthy sapling was on it's way, as it was obvious even to Thrax that Allisan was waning rapidly. The party crossed the river again and, finding that the mystical tower of rest had reappeared, settled there for the night before continuing on to rejoin Ranza at the tree house. There Mikan greedily took the sapling and planted it next to the house, vowing to build it into the structure once it was strong enough. He thanked the party, and told Thrax he could keep the Blade of the East Wind in gratitude.
The party now was in a bit of a predicament. Rent was due on their home and the two henchman guarding it needed to be paid as well. So they would need to leave the valley and the fortress behind for now and return to Brakenrae. But Ranza was in no shape to travel. So she opted to stay with Allisan and Mikan while the rest recovered the raft to go south, take care of business and resupply, then return to continue exploration of Fortress Iacarta. Ranza also took this opportunity, now that her brash and socially inept comrades were gone, to question Mikan some more about the area and his own past. The woodsman, more relaxed now than Allisan was on the mend, opened up a little to the changeling. He told her his secret; that he was a skinchanger who'd turned his back on that life when he met Allisan. He told here too about the Queen of Ravens; she was a skinchanger as well. The Raven was one of the totem animals of the mountain tribes; typically it was the only totem woman could use to become skinchangers. It appears the Queen of Ravens had turned on the tribes and somehow taken or claimed the totem as her own, and there was no love lost between them. Ranza filed that information away to pass on to the rest of the party when they returned .
The party itself recovered the raft and descended the river without interference. Stopping in Wickerwood along the way, however, they were shocked to find the town burned. Seeking out Sister Taritha, they learned Nimon the Gloaming Lord had descended upon the town with an army of ogres, buggleburrs, hobbs, other other fey. She didn't know why, and the fey lord didn't seem interested in taking anything. Just burning and pillaging it seemed. The party, somewhat sheepishly, stayed around for a bit to help and gave non-committal answers to the Sister's hints for help in dealing with The Gloaming Lord. But for now they were focused on the matter at hand; getting back to Brackenrae, which they reached the next day.
After first checking in on the house and paying rent and wages, the party headed into town to shop and get news. In particular, they wondered if Nimon wasa threat here as well. Maybe the fey lord had his eyes on Brackenrae? It didn't seem so; there was no news to match that from Wickerwood. They did hears rumors of Skarling raiders on the roads around Twitten's Hollow, as well as mysterious knights on flying horses harassing travelers in the same area. These strangers were looking for someone or something, and would say only they were servants of the Pallid Queen.
The party also went shopping for regular supplies, plus potions from Jaskin. When Thrax stopped in to see the irritable alchemist though, he was surprised to be upbraided by the man for Gnarl's overdue accounts. [At about the same time, Jonesomon was accosted by a pair of thugs accusing him of cheating them at cards a few days before.] It would appear their time twins were still about and causing grief for them. In any case, Thrax acted dumb and was able to spend much of the party's cash on a series of potions: 2x healing, extra healing, growth, and plant control.
Business complete, the party headed north once more, stopping again at Wickerwood along the way and helping out a little to assuage their guilt. Reaching Mikan and Allisan's, they found Ranza now fit and fully functional, and so they prepared to head back up the valley. There was some talk of going to see the witch, and give her the Book of Seven Souls in return for information. But for now they decided instead to go see the Queen of Ravens. They made it to the fortress without incident, and appeaching the Queen's tower, were met again by two woman. Whether they were the same two they could be sure. But the pair were aware of the party and their invitation. But they would not let them inside unless all were blindfolded; they did not fully trust the party yet. The group somewhat reluctantly agreed, and found themselves led blind into the tower. On the ground floor they were led carefully across a wood floor or walkway, then up the stairs to a level that smelled of birds and droppings, and sounded of ravens. Then another set of stairs through a non-descript area, and up a final stairway. There the blindfolds were removed and they could see around. They were in large chamber, closed in by thick black velvet curtains. Overhead hung a massive iron chandelier blazing with hundreds of candles, while the floor was strewn with pillows and carpets. Lounging on a massive pile of pillows was a very tall, beautiful woman with long black hair, flanked by a trio of giant ravens. She introduced herself as Eileria, Queen of Ravens. She questioned the party, trying to gage their trustworthiness. To their own questions she gave truthful yet reserved answers, confirming in more detail what Gnarl already knew from questioning the raven and Ranza knew from talking to Mikan. They already knew about her enmity toward the skinchangers and the shadows; as for Shangrat the fomorian giant, she was non-committal but wouldn't complain if he were to disappear. They also learned that the other square tower in the curtain wall was a mystery; she'd lost a Ravensguard in there already and could offer no information other than be wary of whatever may lay there.
Speaking more about the ruined keep, she told them it blocked access to the caves below where the shadow creatures dwelt. It was sealed by someone (fey?) to keep the most dangerous shadow creatures imprisoned there; though as the party already knew there were ways for the lessor creatures to get our an wander the valley and fortress. She explained it could be opened by three seals; a golden poppy, a silver rose and a bronze aster. The giant Shangrat had one, though she knew not where the others lay.
In the end, the party and the Queen came to an agreement on cooperation. The party was welcome to make use of the tower as a refuge while they explored the fortress as long as they brought no danger back with them. She would also help and support their goals as much as possible as long as she could call on them for the same when needed.