20 Eleint 1486
The two groups – the ones who went with the villagers and the party who stayed behind to clear out the caves and rescue whoever was left – reunite back at Nightstone. There's conversations to have, a town to rebuild, and the next steps to take.
Tranled and Nano reunite with Dexter, who has some news for them about the future plans the Zhentarim have for Nightstone. With such vigorous defenders, they've decided to take a less overt approach to taking over the place as a base of operations.
Tranled had a conversation with his sister, Destiny, in the main square, as conspicuously as possible, when she reported someone had broken into her house and stolen her holy symbol and their savings. He makes a big show about it. "Wait, stole from your house? The house I placed a hex on to prevent that very thing? Who could be stupid enough to not read the warning about burning for a thousand years and freezing for a thousand more?"
Titan (the thief in question) has a panic attack and hides behind the nearest building, but after examining the golden symbol once more decides it's totally worth it and saunters out like nothing's wrong except that bad cheese and mushrooms again.
Natalia pulls aside Morag into the temple and explains to him the sad news of Lady Velrosa. He agrees it's not best to blurt it out and will speak to the village himself. He has tallied up the dead and missing in the meantime and explains the town apothecaries (the Xeldrin, who were also the owners of the winged cat, Rillix) have a son in Goldenfields. Would Natalia bring news of Miros' parents' death and also return the tressym cat to him? Natalia agrees provisionally, but she'd like to return to Waterdeep first.
Natalia also reassures Morag of the current defense of Nightstone, explaining the truce with the keep guards and the Seven Snakes. Tranled, happening by at this point, interjects with voluble recommendations of the Zhentarim Benevolence Society and their assistance to Nightstone.
Envar, being the only one left in the village with any blacksmithing ability, attempts to repair the damage done to the party's weapons and armor by the black pudding in the Dripping Caves. Korotir's shield is first up, and while it may not be aesthetically pleasing, the repair is sound. Atarah, judging by Korotir's reaction, decides to wait until they're in a larger city to have her father's sword repaired.
While the party settles in for the night, to depart to Goldenfields, Waterdeep, or wherever else in the morning, various winged messengers arrive with mail.
The Lords' Alliance has sent Natalia a missive: "We appreciate the information about Nightstone and the attack on it, but we cannot spare the manpower to assist. All our energies are currently being directed to pre-emptive attacks on the restless giants."
The Emerald Enclave contacts Envar: "Fire giants have been reported burning forests to the north. Tell us if you discover any large metallic objects embedded in the ground, we believe they may be related."
21 Eleint 1486 – Autumn Equinox
In the morning, Natalia wakes to the winged serpent she'd sent to her mother hovering over her. After only a very small scream, she retrieves the message it bears from Lady Crystal: "Letting Lady Velrosa die looks very bad. Don't come back to Waterdeep until you've actually accomplished something."
Atarah commiserates. "I've never liked your mother."
Natalia resolves to go to Goldenfields after all, and her loyal three are accompanying her. Envar, Nano, and Tranled also come along; Envar ostensibly to look for new work, Tranled because he's a restless soul, and Nano… because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Dexter stays behind with the snakes, Aliza to care for the temple.
Morag gives Envar a scroll of "Speak With Animals" – in case of emergency on the trip. It takes five days to get to Goldenfields on foot; the party packs appropriately.
Half a day out from Nightstone, the party is greeted by a… floating… tower… It rests on a cloud bank and its top is shaped like a wizard's conical hat, a thousand feet or so above the ground. A spiral staircase made out of more cloud extends down from the bank and follows the party, enticing them upward. Titan immediately wants to climb it to the riches presumably beyond.
The rest of the party is skeptical.
"…that's a trap, isn't it."
"Well, knowing it's a trap is one way to get out of a trap."
"Alright, fine, so long as we're all agreed: trap. Let's go."
They climb to the top of the stairs, some of them wheezing more than others, the door is open but there's no one there. Atarah waits for precisely three seconds before getting bored and banging on the door with the pommel of her greatsword. BOOM BOOM BOOM. "Hello? You wanted us here, we're here, what do you want?"
Titan facepalms. "Now you've wrecked it."
A twenty foot tall elderly grey-skinned giant floats out of a hole in the ceiling of the room. "Oh! Hello! Who are you?"
"You… kind of invited us? Your staircase?"
"Who are you?"
"What? Who are you?…"
Giant eventually introduces himself as Zephyros, a wizard. He hardly ever finishes a sentence, instead trailing off to stare into space. He knows most of the party once they introduce themselves, although he mentions "Oh, we're in the future where Dexter isn't here."
He sets the cloud tower to fly to Goldenfields (shaving two days off the party's trip, to three days instead of five) and, in his own broken fashion and prompted by many questions, explains that the Deity of the Giants has shattered their Ordining – their enforced social hierarchy between the different races of giants. As a result, all the races are vying for power and control over the others, leading to all the problems hinted at in the missives Envar and Natalia received earlier.
He does make lovely tea in tiny ice cups for the group though. He asks no one come up to the second floor (where there's no stairs, anyways), though the halflings attempt to hide clinging to the hem of his robes when he floats up there. They don't make it up.
The party spends three days on the bottom floor of the tower, a circular room approximately a hundred feet in diameter and devoid of pretty much anything but a few pieces of Giant-sized furniture. Atarah walks the outside, pesters Envar, Korotir, and whoever else wants to into sparring with her when she gets bored. Titan engages Zephyros in conversation about hill giants, slang, bribery, and prunes.
23 Eleint 1486
On the second to last morning, nine giant vultures with armored human riders touch down on the cloud. Atarah goes to look and recognizes their branding: they’re members of the Cult of Howling Hatred, an air-element aligned cult bent on summoning their evil patron, Yan-C-Bin. She's fought them before while still a novice in the Halls of Justice. Atarah calls on the rest of the party to help her close the door.
The Cultists throw themselves against the door and the two forces stalemate with a slim gap remaining. A Cultist from outside calls, "Let us in, we're friendly, we've brought gifts!"
Atarah calls, "No follower of the Howling Hatred is ever friendly!"
"Uh, look, I dunno what she's told you, but—"
A cultist slips in through the gap and attempts to grab Envar, who stabs him. A fight breaks out. Korotir and Atarah hold the door as best they can while cultists slip in one at a time through the gap. The rest of the party deals with the intruders. Korotir is ripped from the door by an invisible force, leaving Atarah holding it alone. She manages to get it closed but not latched – and then is Commanded to open it. The door swings fully open.
Titan, suffering under a curse, gets hit by Tranled's fiery magics and is burned to unconsciousness; Natalia gets the flames out with her cloak and heals him, but then gets hit by the same invisible force that attacked Korotir. The tiefling jumps to Korotir's shoulders to get a better vantage at the cultists yet outside and casts a cloud of poison spray onto them. Korotir is unruffled by being used so.
Those within scuffle with four cultists and an invisible elemental of some kind – Titan throws Natalia's cloak over it to make it visible. Natalia Commands the invisible creature to grovel in her best Noble Authority voice, and it drops to the floor, kowtowing before her for a few valuable moments.
Eventually, after being hit on all sides with daggers, axes, arrows and sacred flames, the invisible force departs, heading back to its master.
Korotir and Tranled run out of the tower to confront the last few cultists and nearly slide off the edge. Envar follows, more cautiously. They take out one of the vultures and its rider. Atarah, suffering under a Hold Person spell, is burned by the Compelled cultist, but breaks his arm when she finally breaks the spell. His vulture carries him away but Envar ends his suffering with a well-placed shot.
They end with one unconscious cultist and a bunch of dead ones, who are promptly stripped of all valuables. The unconscious cultist is revived and interrogated, but reveals little of value. His name is Yenoth. The party is not done with him yet, but leaves him restrained on Zephyros' floor.
Zephyros finally appears and accepts the party's account of what happened, hmmphs, and goes back up to the second floor. Goldenfields is yet a day away…