Having escaped the collapse of Elderburg, the members of the Treldor Historic Society dust themselves off (as best as possible), recover their horses, and make their way to collect the supply cache; en route, they discuss where to go next. They agree that they need to catch up on what’s been happening in the rest of the kingdom, and since Lady Yeselda of Fort Deeprun was the one who had informed them of the Iron Alliance’s intent to acquire the artifact now discovered to be the Key, she should be informed. And so, the decision is made to return to Fort Deeprun.
Along the way, thoughts turn to hot baths, soft beds, and other comforts of civilization, and spirits lift. However, a damper is placed on them when the party crests the last rise before Fort Deeprun and catches sight of the town. Outside the walls is a large encampment, and as the party stops and observes, they see it does not appear military; rather, it is a collection of travelers, traders, entertainers, and the like, waiting to be let into the town. Disconcertingly, the Efferveld banner is not flying over the keep, nor is any other. While the others set up camp in the forest south-west of town, Kalissa, Paxton, and Bud (in the guise of a mastiff) check out the camp and the gates. It emerges the Iron Alliance has occupied Fort Deeprun and locked it down. The gates are open only two hours a day, only one party is allowed in at a time, and while Deeprun guards man the gates, all visitors are searched by Iron Alliance troops once they are inside. Kalissa tries to glean some information from a guardsman at the gate, but he does not appear to know much, and turns decidedly pale at the mention of Lord and Lady Efferveld.
The trio rejoins the rest, and they move camp to the north-western side of town, near the river. In the course of the next day, Bud uses his druidic abilities to gather intelligence, some by listening in on the few fishermen allowed out on the river by day (under the eye of Iron Alliance troops), some by sending befriended rats into town and the keep. As best as can be gathered, the Deeprun guards perform their regular duties patrolling the streets and manning the walls and gates, but the Iron Alliance has taken exclusive possession of the keep, and is holding Lord Julius and Lady Yeselda in the dungeons under heavy guard. Suspecting the Alliance may attempt to transport the nobles elsewhere, the Society moves camp yet again, this time covering the road and the river east of town, as these are the routes by which the Alliance would most likely attempt to do so.
While maintaining surveillance on the road, the lookouts observe a long wagon traveling east, filled with what appear to be halflings and gnomes; Lessers. Fearing it may be a prisoner transport, the party mounts up, pursues, and soon intercepts the wagon. The occupants, it turns out, are all the Lessers who used to work for the Effervelds in the keep, but have been ejected by the Iron Alliance, and are on their way to Stormhaven, hoping to find refuge in the city which, they have heard, has become more resistant to the Alliance and more welcoming of Lessers in the wake of the Treldor Historic Society’s efforts. When the party advises them to get in touch with Ingo Furtoes once they get there, there are gasps and it emerges that Ingo’s name is already known to the refugees, and they want to know how the party knows him. When the party replies that Ingo used to be their butler/housekeeper, the refugees conclude that the party must therefore be the Treldor Historic Society. From this point, the refugees prove a very useful source of information: under the guise of a diplomatic delegation, a group of Iron Alliance personnel gained access to Fort Deeprun, only to let in an occupation force. The Lessers estimate there are 250-300 Iron Alliance troops, easily outnumbering the full-time guard (who number 80-100) and even if they would not outnumber a full mobilization of military-age males in town, they could nip any attempt to do so in well before it could be completed. Kalissa, being a noble, knows that even the Iron Alliance will not try and punish nobles, as this would form an infringement on the king’s prerogative. Almost certainly, the Alliance has requested the king to send a representative to sit in judgement on the Effervelds, and only when that representative arrives will the trial begin.
The refugees continue on their way to Stormhaven, and the party returns to their camp to confer. Everybody agrees that it’s too risky to rely on the Effervelds being acquitted and that they should therefore be broken free, but there seem to be precious few viable options for doing so. Given the numbers of Iron Alliance troops, a direct assault is clearly out, even if the Deeprun guards could be enlisted. Similarly, infiltrating by stealth seems too risky, again, even if the Deeprun guards or other loyalists in town could be enlisted to create a diversion. While the plotting is being conducted, one idea that comes up is to draw away at least some Alliance troops, and a fake message, supposedly intended for Lady Yeselda, is crafted and delivered by a bird (recruited by Bud) to the effect that the party is outside Elderburg with “the item” and representatives of “local tribes” willing to form an alliance with Fort Deeprun, but that the tribesmen want to meet with a direct representative of the Effervelds, and Her Ladyship please send one. Not long after the message is delivered to the keep, the town gates open and what appear to be a hundred-odd Alliance troops ride out, heading in the direction of Elderburg. The consensus is that they should be gone for three or four days, but with 150-200 Iron Alliance troops remaining in the town, a raid, even by stealth, still seems too risky.
Ultimately, Paxton proposes breaking the clay token given him by the mystery woman from Morgom’s Crossing. Aetadius and Kasglan have misgivings about calling in so potentially powerful a marker for a not-quite-critical situation like this, but concede that since nobody, themselves included, can come up with an alternative plan with so much as an even chance of success, they will go along with Paxton’s idea. Because various members of the party don’t fully trust “Sister,” the Key is given to Bud, who assumes wolf form and hides in the undergrowth 35 yards away (just close enough that Paxton can communicate with a Message cantrip). After some to and fro-ing on relative positioning, Paxton breaks the token.
A large bubble of magic forms around the group, bathing the volume within in purplish light, and while the landscape and the items in it do not move or disappear, their appearance becomes more somber: the landscape looks more barren, the trees are dead, the sky is dark and sunless. Before the group appears a figure, not “Sister” but (one manifesting as) a male with a very similar taste in clothing to hers. He asks, in so many words, what the party wants, and Kalissa explains that the party needs the Effervelds freed. “Brother” (for ease of reference) does not understand why this is important, and attempts to explain it to him unveil that those he represents do not take much of an interest in human(oid) affairs except as it pertains to the activities of “the evil we work against” (presumably Mother and the Sisters, but either way, an evil the party is “not yet ready to confront”), and it takes him a few moments to recognize the Alliance as “one of its tools.” Accordingly, he appears skeptical that springing Lady Yeselda is a sufficiently important use of his faction’s service, and seeks assurance that, in so many words, the party really wants to use their marker for this. “Brother” agrees to extract Lady Yeselda from the dungeons (she materializes in a disoriented state next to Bud’s hiding place) but not Lord Julius because “he is not important.” With that, the magic bubble and “Brother” disappear, and the party finds itself back in the woods by the Fort Deeprun road, soon joined by Bud and Lady Yeselda.
They are irked by the fact that “Brother” didn’t just spring Lord Julius while he was at it, but decide that the first priority is to help Lady Yeselda get to safety. She expresses a desire to go to Stormhaven as well (this apparently being the safest place in the Five KIngdoms for enemies of the Iron Alliance at present) so the party decides the most expedient way to achieve this is to unite her with the wagon of refugee “Lessers.” On horseback, they catch up in about a day, and the wagon’s occupants are duly amazed that the Society liberated Her Ladyship with minimal time and effort expended (little do they know). With Lord Julius still incarcerated in Fort Deeprun and little hope of extracting him, the party (with Lady Yeselda’s counsel) decide that the best they can do is hope to intercept the king’s representative and convince him that the Iron Alliance’s charges against the count are bogus.
A few candlemarks later, they come to the ferry across the Deeprun river. The ferry is on the far bank, and among the passengers waiting to board is a group of at least a dozen soldiers flying the royal banner. After some deliberation, it is agreed that Kasglan will cast Water Walk on the entire party (and Lady Yeselda) but that Kalissa will cross the river by herself and attempt to parley with the envoy (while Paxton maintains communication with repeated use of the Message cantrip); the rest of the party will hold back on the south bank, capable of crossing the river and intervening if Kalissa signals (by raising her hood) that she needs their help.
Kalissa’s arrival certainly attracts attention from the royal party, and upon reaching the north bank, she is met by a few soldiers led by a knight, as well as a white-robed mage. Even though the latter is evidently in the employ of the royal court, he wears the sigil of the Arcanum on his robes. Kalissa politely requests an audience with His Majesty’s envoy, and while the knight goes to relay her request, the mage attempts to quiz her about how she managed to walk across the Deeprun (correctly deducing that a cleric enabled her to do so). Ere long, the knight returns in the company of a young man of royal station, who turns out to be Prince Wilhelm, the king’s younger son, and invites Kalissa to chat over drinks in his tent. Kalissa plies the prince with brandy she recovered from Elderburg (which the mage tastes to check for poison) and then manges to get him to dismiss the mage; then, she presents the case as best she can that the Iron Alliance is attempting a naked power grab of Fort Deeprun and that the charges against Lord Julius are manufactured solely as an excuse to remove him from the picture. His Highness, unfortunately, appears decidedly uninterested, seems to already have made up his mind that Lord Julius is indeed a traitor, and is looking forward to watching him hang. Via the Message cantrip, Kalissa communicates this to the rest of the party, whereupon Kasglan cuts the guide cable across the river, leaving the ferry stranded on the north bank until someone can repair the cable.
When the prince adds that he hopes to get this over so he can go and look for something more exciting to do, however, Kalissa has a flash of inspiration. She reminds His Highness that Elderburg is only a few days’ travel from Fort Deeprun, and regales him with tales of her very recent visit to that ruined city, and before long, the prince is practically salivating at the adventure he could have there. “After all, Efferveld’s safely locked up, so what’s the hurry in getting to Fort Deeprun?” he says, and concludes the audience. Kalissa takes her leave, stating she must get back to Stormhaven, more for the benefit of any listeners than for that of the prince, who has already lost interest in her. She walks a short distance east along the road, away from the ferry, before cutting south and making it across the river in the nick of time. In doing so, she manages to evade the prince’s mage.
The party escorts Lady Yeselda and her retinue along the south bank of the Deeprun. Off-road, the going is rather slow, but after five days’ travel, they make it onto the road from Treldheim to Kilvad and soon arrive in the latter.
At this point, the session is concluded.