The Heroes hid behind the ice statues that littered the base of the spiral ramp leading up into the Fortress of Frozen Tears. But they are discovered by an investigating Cyclops, who calls for support from nearby Winter Fey.
As the heroes unleash their full powers, more and more forces are attracted by the commotion, and the alarm is raised.
Even so, the group fends off the Fey, who don’t seem to operate as a properly coordinated unit.
Then Halani unleashes a blast of Summer Fire, and a moment later, The Prince of Frost himself enters the scene. He looks on, curiously, as the heroes continue to fight against his forces in the tower. A hint of admiration for their tenacity creeps onto his face before he freezes them all. All but Halani.
The bladesinger lowers her weapon as he approaches, and then sheathes it. Everyone around her, friend and foe, turned to icy statues, there is no point in further, pointless, violence.
“Aren’t you an interesting one, " the Prince says, one white eyebrow raised.
“Follow me…” He strides up the ramp spiralling into the tower.
Anika receives a sending from a Marut. He wishes to speak with her in person, about the consequences to She who bears the Crown of Blades. The speaker claims to represent a small contingent of Marut who do not cleave to the same philosophy as the whole. A group who recognizes that the Crown has chosen a different path from it’s makers; that the mending of reality is more important than the doctrine of Order. That fighting for possession of the Crown is a distraction.
They agree on a meeting place in neutral territory in a hidden grove within the Feywild. A lone Marut appears in a clap of thunder, and walks towards them, hands open and head bowed in deference.
“Great One, bearer of the Crown of Blades. I come to treat with you.”
“I’m listening. But if you start on with that whole ‘Give us back the crown’ thing again, I’m not going to be happy.”
“Not at all. Two things are obvious to us. You are far more powerful than the best of us. And the Crown has not deserted you for another. Together those lead a small group of us to believe that reality is best served by serving you.”
“About time.. "
“That said, I have some questions.”
“Hmm.. go on.”
“Are you willing to do whatever the Crown asks of you?”
“I think a quick survey of my history will confirm I am willing to do just about anything. I have, thus far, done everything that has been asked of me, and more.”
The Marut nods.
“And if the Crown requires you to give up your freedom to travel the universe as you see fit?”
“Yes. If that is what must be done.”
“And if it requires you to sacrifice your mortal existence?”
Anika looks to her companions, and gestures at the torturous devices embedded in her flesh – a Shadar Kai habit.
“Do I look like I give a crap about mortal existence?”
The Marut nods again.
“And if the Crown required you to give up your sense of self, your independence, your very essence of being?”
Anika’s eyes flare.
“But would you?”
There is a long pause, as Anika’s ire rises, and shadows dance between the blades of the Crown, as it fans out from her head to encompass her neck like a collar.
“The Crown and I are in agreement on this : It is a sense of self that it craved, something that the Marut could never impart or understand. It will never ask that of me, or anyone.”
Anika sensed a change in the Marut’s stance, and tensed, ready to summon Staff and Wand should things get ugly.
“Then you have our undivided loyalty.”
Well, that’s a surprise, she thought.
A hundred thunderclaps heralded the arrival of Marut en masse; appearing from thin air before them.
“We are the Heretics. And We are yours to command.”
Anika interviews the main Heretic Marut whom she calls “Franklin” for want of a better name. The Heretics are not great in number, and will serve her to the best of their ability, as advisors, administrators and soldiers, should she wish it. They might be immortal, but they are not invulnerable, so “Franklin” advises her to deploy them where they will not be wasted.
Also – reality is scheduled to end sometime tomorrow – and this has happened before, will happen again, and has never happened, all at once. Which they don’t quite understand. Anika points at Amata and says “Ask him.”
Meanwhile the others discuss their next move : With Lyneth’s plan to thaw the Prince of Frost their best hope, they decide the best chance to learn the Prince’s True Name is to reassemble Sharaea and ask her.
They meet with Quarion, and inquire of him his motives. When he learns that Everything Ends Tomorrow, he says “my motives are irrelevant :what do we do?”
That’s when Ator squirts out a Sending to his Master Shard Amata, informing them of the heroes imminent capture by the Prince of Frost himself.
The Epic’s fly into action, summoning Eagles to carry them into the Vale of Long Night. With the hours stretching in front of them, and nothing to do but stare at the stars in the cloudless night sky, that is when Lyneth hears them : the whisperers in her head.
“Help Us…” they cry again
and one by one, the stars are vanishing.
“He Comes ! Malagoroth! The Devourer Comes!”
They arrive at the Fortress of Frozen Tears to see the last part of an army filtering through a portal in front of the gates, a thousand empty camps arrayed across the glacier speak to it’s original size.
A small cohort of guards challenge them, and unleash a hail of arrows at them when they advance, but with a wave of Anika’s Staff, the arrows are brushed aside, and the guards break in fear.
From the Fortress’s gate, a lone Eladrin walks forth, and beckons them to enter.
“The King of Winter will receive you.” he says.
Anika turns to Martin.
“He must be pretty damn confident if he’s claiming that title.”
The Eladrin leads them to the Fortress’s pinnacle, in to a grand throne room.
An array of icy statues decorate the hall, and Winter Fey of all kinds mingle at the edges. Some cast their eyes at them with fear, others with wonder, and a few, with contempt.
“The Court of Winter recognizes the Fey styled as ‘Lyneth’, … and her esteemed companions.” the Eladrin chamberlain intones.
Anika inspects the nearest ice statues, searching for familiar faces. A Half-Orc here, and a dwarf there : all of the Heroics are here, except Halani.
The Prince of Frost sits regally on an icy throne, waiting for them to speak. Under his left hand, embedded in the ice of the armrest, is a large crystal orb – Dalastra’s Orb.
Lyneth cuts to the chase :
“Where’s the Eladrin?”