That evening they rested some and then spent the rest of the time preparing for the Midwinter Gala at the Casslanter Villa. A few of them had had special clothes made. Henrich, Pixel and Catarak had to figure out how them being dyed green would effect their possible interactions. Green was a one of the colors of the Midwinter Gala. They would find out that most people ignored it with only a few stopping and staring trying to figure out what was going on.
They decided to check out the Market from 8am till 12pm, then come back to Trollskull and change for the event at the Cassalanters. They planned to arrive at the villa around 3:15.
Wheels of carriages and drays crunch over the freshly fallen snow, delivering visitors from across the city to the Sea Ward. Despite the frigid temperature, the atmosphere is warm and jovial. Red velvet-covered tents line Delzorin and Diamond Streets; merchants offer treats and trinkets. The air is filled with the voices of carolers and the scents of spiced pastries and mulled wine.
The Sea Ward glitters and gleams during the Midwinter Gala. The streets are crowded with merriment. Delzorin and Diamond Streets are both closed to traffic. The streets have been cleared of snow, but the snow is banked on the sidewalks and the roofs of the villas that line the street. Throughout the day, snow falls in intermittent bursts, adding a fresh coat to the ground.
There were vendor tents all up and down the streets. They decided to check out several of the vendors as possible suppliers of food, drink and other items that they may provide at Trollskull Tavern. Some of the folks that they talked to were:
Wizdil (gnome commoner) sells cups of mulled wine, ale, or beer for 5 cp. Wizdil staves off the cold by imbibing from his own supply and is in quite good spirits.
Merry (halfling commoner) sells pastries, cookies, and cakes for 10 cp. Merry is passionate about baking and refers to her offerings as “positively scrummy!”
Hildegard (human commoner) sells beautiful knitwear (hats, scarves, gloves, and small knit animals) for 1 gp. She is actively knitting an ornate cowl when the characters approach.
Vela (human bard) sells intricately-crafted wooden instruments; available at her table are a violin, viola, and lute, along with rarer instruments including a hurdy-gurdy and a balalaika. Each instrument costs 100 gp. Vela plucks at the balalaika to the same tune of the songs sung by the carolers.
Pavel (half-elf commoner) sells an array of fine stationary — notebooks, holiday cards, blank scrolls, quills, and monogram wax stamps. Each item costs 3 gp.
The vendors were eager to provide their services but the group would need to go through the various guilds to purchase what they were looking for. They decided to up their tavern game with special tankards that regulars would use and to create menus that looks like scrolls that had a troll skulls motif. They met a good number of contacts that they would follow up with after the Midwinter Gala had concluded. They did purchase, mulled wine (Catarak), pastries (Hetty) and knitted items, scarves and cowls (Reva). One thing that all of the vendors talked about was Aria Cavatina, the bard with the famous voice. Jaspar knew the Cavatina name. They were well known opera singers. The family was also aasimar. It was said when Aria sang, her eyes glow a mesmerizing sapphire and shimmering wings sprout from her back.
After wandering around for several hours, they went back to the tavern for lunch and to get ready for the gala.
They left in what they thought would be plenty of time to get to the villa around 3 or so. They came upon a crowd about halfway to their destination. Only those without tickets to get inside the Cassalanter Villa were trying to get as close as they could. It was rumored that the front doors and many of the windows of the villa would be kept open so those outside could hear the performance. It ended up not taking that long for them to get to the entrance. Willifort, the butler they had met when Hetty and Pixel had visited some weeks ago, greeted them and then pointed them to a page girl. “Balki will check your name off the guest list and then show you to the ballroom. Welcome.” Again, the process goes quicker than one would think with the size of the crowd.
They noticed a number of guards dressed in the livery of the Cassalanters. Several were placed around the main entrance, in the foyer, and along the stairs and hallways leading to the ballroom on the second floor. There were two sets of stairs leading into the ballroom.
The polished marble floor is a dazzling mosaic that depicts a silver chalice with the image of a golden sun on its outside. Several of them recognized it as the holy symbol of Siamorphe, demigod of nobility. Gilded mirrors and handsome tapestries festoon the walls. Along the west wall, windows with crimson drapes stretch from the door to the ceiling. The drapes were closed but when they looked closely they could see the drapes blowing in a slight breeze. The rumors of the windows being open for the performance were true.
They saw more guards in the ballroom. Two guards on each side, flank the front door of the ballroom 20 guards stood around the perimeter of the Ballroom. They also saw Hyustus Staget, City Watch captain, the member of the city watch they had met at the warehouse where they first met Ranaer. He gave a nod which at first they thought was to them but they quickly realized Ranaer was behind them in line to get into the ballroom. He joined them and they had a brief conversation. He asked if they had seen Volo. They had not but would keep at eye out for him. Ranaer then said oh, there is Floon. I will go to join him. Henrich said “We may need your assistance tomorrow if you are available. Ranaer said I should be, well it depends on how much I drink this evening and if Volo shows up that could be quite a bit! Just message me at my house and I should be around to assist.
A temporary dais has been constructed next to the Cassalanters’ beautiful harpsichord. Ammalia and Victoro Cassalanter, dressed in opulent winter finery, smile warmly at the crowd. Their 8-year old twin children, Terenzio and Elzerina, squirm in their freshly-starched holiday clothes. It was obvious to several members of the group that Elzerina, the girl, looked anxious beyond just typical childlike demeanor. She had something balled up in her right fist. Terenzio looked excited but stood close to his parents shying away from the crowds.
Ammalia introduces the performer. Aria Cavatina was beautiful and tall with vivid red hair that contrasts her silvery-white skin. She performed without accompaniment. The singer’s voice fills the room, and her radiant light follows. It is a soft, warm light that makes the Cassalanters’ décor gleam and shimmer. Her voice is bright and clear, and you are riveted by it. The crowd watches in silence; even the ornery children have gone quiet and watch, open-mouthed.
Aria extends her arms, heralding the start of another song, but suddenly stumbles and lets out a bloodcurdling scream.
Everyone but Hetty and Jaspar saw that a bright red imp has glommed onto the back of her neck and had begun to attack her with his sting attack. Reva could see that she was more distressed from shock and surprise than from injury.
Reva motioned to Henrich to toss her over the crowd to get as close as she could to the dais. They tumbled over the people in front of her and landed in the front row but she still had a good shot on the imp.
Hetty saw what was going on and asked Henrich to toss her as well. Henrich got a better throw with Hetty and she ended up on stage. Jaspar cast Ray of Frost at the imp and it fell. Suddenly, there was another imp right next to him going in for the attack. Hetty, Reva, Henrich, Pixel and Catarak each had one on them as well. The imps ended up being more annoying than anything and soon they were defeated. They looked around the room to see if there were any other threats.
The crowd was panicking, but Captain Staget stepped forward. With a booming voice, he commanded the City Watch and the private guards to shut down the festivities. Captain Staget then ordered the front doors shut and locked, locking everyone inside. “No one is allowed to leave until we can conduct an investigation!”
Hetty and Reva stood guard around Aria. Hetty gave her a potion of healing and she thanked her. She then mentioned that she had an item that may be useful in their investigation. She gave Hetty and Reva a Bell of Silent Carols. This bell has 4 charges. When you use an action to shake it, one creature of your choice can hear the bell’s ring in the tune of festive carols, provided the creature is within 600 feet of the bell and not deafened. No other creature hears sound coming from the bell. The bell regains 1d4 expended charges daily at dawn.
She also said to them if you know of any bard that might be able to assist me with something, give them this. They gave sheet music and unfinished lyrics to Catarak and Jaspar who said they would look at it later.
Captain Stagat approached Jaspar and said as you can see you all are the only ones besides me that seem to know what they are doing. Would you and your friends assist in the investigation? Jaspar agreed and said that he had suspicions but didn’t want to say what they were just yet. He then noticed a balled up piece of paper on the ballroom floor. He moved over and picked it up. Unfolding it he saw it was a children’s story, The Wooden Girl from The Faerûn Child’s Book of Fables:
As he picked up the piece of paper, he heard what sounded like a little girl let out a squeak. He looked around and saw Elzerina with her hands clamped over her mouth. He was still hesitant to say anything to Elzerina’s parents. He did show Captain Stagat the piece of paper. That was when he saw the drawing on the back of it.
“The girl’s name was Elzerina and she was brought to life in the puppet-maker’s workshop. Like most girls, Elzerina was equipped with limbs and a face and, of course, a heart. The puppet maker, Sophie, crafted Elzerina with loving detail. Sophie perched Elzerina in the window of the shop, where she could wave to the passers-by and enjoy the view of the ocean in the distance.
On the first morning of Midwinter, Elzerina gazed longingly through the window, watching the white caps fold over the sea. Snow began to fall, dotting the shop windows and obscuring her vision. Elzerina grew sad and wistful. She wanted to leave the shop, but knew that she could not.
Suddenly the snowdrops on the glass began to melt. A vivid orange glow filled Elzerina’s sight. On the other side of the window stood an old man, face shrouded in a torn scarf, holding a candle. Elzerina was fearful, for Sophie had always told her: wooden girls must stay away from fire. Sophie told Elzerina about the wooden snake she had crafted as a child. When the snake was brought to life, it slithered toward the hearth, seeking warmth. A stray ember ignited the snake, and it withered to ashes. This was not the only warning; Sophie also told Elzerina about the set of pick-up sticks she had crafted when she was the woodworker’s apprentice. Pleased with her work, Sophie rubbed two sticks together to sand away the splinters — but the friction sparked, and the sticks burnt to cinders.
But the man’s flame was low on the wick, and he peered at her through the glass. Little wooden girl, why are you so sad?
I wish to see the sea beyond this pane of glass, she said. When it snows, the drops blur the window, and I feel trapped.
What if I took you from your mount? he said. Would you like that?
Elzerina frowned. My maker warned me not to go outside, for I could get lost. She says little girls like me get lost in big cities.
But the man persisted. Surely she did not create you just to keep you trapped here forever. What if you fetched her a gift for the holiday?
This filled Elzerina with joy. Oh, yes! I should so love to bring my maker a present. And perhaps I will get a quick glimpse of the sea.
He stepped into the shop and lifted her from her mount. He marched through the city and she reveled in the freedom. But he strode not to the sea, but toward the City of the Dead.
It was not the cool blue ocean she eventually saw before her, but a scene awash in gray. Perhaps if she blurred her sight, she could pretend that the feeble sun glinting off of the snow-slick tombstones was the white-capped surface of the sea. But Elzerina knew already that she had made a terrible mistake. She suddenly longed for the puppet-maker’s workshop, for the stoic company of alphabet blocks and sets of dice and intricately-carved spinning tops and tiny ballerinas who danced but never spoke. The man wove through the rows of stones and sat at a circle embedded in the ground, an altar unmarked and unnamed. But it had been desecrated already; Elzerina saw the remnants of a fire that once burned, the debris of used tinder.
The man pulled away his scarf and grinned at her, an evil smile matched by red eyes that glinted with sadistic pleasure. He placed her atop the ashes and pulled a matchbook from his shabby coat pocket. He had the tool but not the fuel — until he had found the wooden girl in the workshop window, made from the choicest wood for burning, the perfect size for kindle on a long winter night.
The man struck an oiled match tip and the flame roared to life, a curious gradient of deep navy and violent orange. And as the blue heart of the flame engulfed her, Elzerina thought of both the azure sea she would never meet and the puppet-maker’s kind cornflower eyes, and longed for their cool, dousing touch.”
Jaspar feared that someone, maybe Elzerina had summoned these imps, not on purpose, but somehow she was involved. Jaspar used the Sending Stones to tell everyone what he had found. Speaking with Captain Stagat, Jaspar was convinced he needed to talk to the Cassalanters about this but he knew it may not go over well. While he spoke to her parents, Hetty talked with Elzerina to try and keep her calm. She brought pastries and they seemed to help, for a little while.
Jaspar told the Cassalanters that he believed that their daughter had not on purpose summoned the imps but they were not exactly sure how. Elzerina swallowed her bit of pastry and looked around at her parents and took a deep breath and said as quickly as an 8 year old only possibly could:
“He was nice, at first! He let me clean his hat, which had a smudge on it. But then Chernok and his stinky friend Brimtoe started breaking things in my room and I got scared. Is Aria going to be alright?”
Jaspar asked how did Chernok appear? Elzerina said I read that story, The Wooden Girl. It is one of my favorites. I mean, the girl, we have the same name. So, yeah I read it and then Chernok appeared. I wonder where he is now. I didn’t see him with Brimtoe. She points to the imp that had first attacked Aria. They asked where did Brimtoe come from. She said Chernok showed but how to on the floor rug. Come on! I can show you!
Ammalia said that it was okay for them to go the twins’ room. Elzerina ran off in front of them and the followed downstairs from the ballroom, down a few halls and then back upstairs, down another hall and then into room. It was the children’s playroom. Strewn about on the floor are giant stuffed toys, jack-in- the-boxes, dolls. and a rocking horse shaped like a warhorse. A large mobile in the form of a butterfly hangs from the ceiling, turning listlessly.
She ran through that room into another, her and her brother’s bedroom. The twin’s bedroom contains two four-poster beds, one for each child. A life-sized stuffed unicorn stands in one corner. In the middle of the room is a circular area rug where Elzerina activated the sigil.
Scattered on the rug are two hair barrettes and seven marbles.
At the foot of each bed is a large, ornate toy chest. Terenzio’s is a rich mahogany; Elzerina’s is a shiny white with gold handles.
The marbles and hair barrettes looked similar to the objects in the image on the back of the story. Jaspar did some thinking. He was sure that the sigil represented Asmodeus and reveals that there are sigils representing other devils and demons. Sigils like this have traditionally been used as summoning circles to conjure devils and demons. So, Elzerina recreated the sigil using random objects and that activated a temporary one-way portal from the Nine Hells, allowing Asmodeus’s minions to pass through to the Material Plane. In this context, the objects used to recreate the sigil are toys. Chenok showed her how to place the objects but when the second imp appeared, Elzerina panicked and kicked the items out of the way, disrupting the sigil.
Jaspar then told the group unfortunately, that since the sigil had already been activated, it needed to be expended fully before it can close. They would need to find the rest of the objects. Hetty and Elzerina looked into Elzerina’s toy chest. Inside they found:
A set of pick-up sticks* in a silk sleeve;
A set of metal jacks* in a velvet pouch;
An empty velvet pouch
Two complete sets of wooden alphabet blocks*;
An articulating wooden snake*;
An ornately carved dreidel;
A beautiful music box in the shape of an egg.
And a strange looking nutcracker…or was it. Hetty picked it up and it was soft and not a wooden toy. The imp then stuck its tongue out at her and the smiled.
Hello! the imp said. Are you friends of Elzerina? Have you come to play?
The group asked Chernok what he knew about the imp and how they arrived. His answers were crafty but they could tell he was not lying to them. He said a few times that all they needed to know was on that sheet of paper. And no he could not tell them how to do it. That was part of the game. He also could not tell them who his boss is. Again, he said all they needed to know was on the sheet of paper. He did tell them that once the sigil was complete on the rug it would need to be done again at the unmarked altar in the City of the Dead. Look for the girl with the wings.
So they would have to open the portal here, somehow contain what may or may not come through, then go to the City of the Dead on the other side of Waterdeep to do it again and only then have a chance to close the connection to the Nine Hells. They were confident that they could open the portal but were not sure if they could close it. Would they need a wooden doll to set on fire? Would they need to take Elzerina and set her on fire. They knew that they needed to secure the Cassalanter Villa. Ammalia assured them that the Villa was protected and that she would have a cleric come to ward off the bedroom while the completed the sigil. Captain Stagat would send a few guards to the City of the Dead to see if they saw any strange girl statue with wings. They also sent Hetty to the Temple of the Triad to pick up four vials of holy water. Theuy had figured out that had to be the dousing touch they needed to use to destroy the sigil at the City of the Dead. They then set about completing the sigil in the Villa.
Jaspar stood in the rug and placed the barrettes, the wooden snake and the pick up stick. Three imps appeared and asked here Chernok was. They were ready to play. Chernok was still being held by Hetty. She and Reva were in the hall provided ranged support to Henrich and Jaspar who were in the room setting the toys down in the correct pattern. Chernok heard them and he tried to squirm out but Hetty was too strong even when she was using her Bracer of Flying Daggers to attack the summoned imps. Chernok mumbled “There is nothing I can do. You are on your own, Dave.
The three imps were soon defeated. Jaspar placed the metal jack, the marbles and finally the wooden blocks. 7 more imps arrived but they too were soon defeated. Pixel summoned 8 panthers that dealt a lot of the damage to the imps.
They then signaled for the room to be sealed off and then they headed to the City of the Dead. Pixel wildshaped into an Elk and Reva climbed on her back and using Primeval awareness, Reva was able to get a good understanding of where the fiendishness was located. She gave the directions to the other using the Sending Stones and they started to come together in one section of the cemetery. As they all turned separate corners into an intersection saw a statue of a little girl with wings some 30ft away or so. At first she appeared Celestial in nature but as they looked closely, the wings were spindly and webbed, like a bat’s wings. Embedded in the ground in front of the statue was a circular stone slab, about two feet in diameter. They could not tell if there was any writing on the stone or not. As they got closer the candelabra that the statue held began to glow a vivid, angry orange.
Jaspar and Henrich moved to the stone slab and positioned themselves like they had back at the twins’ bedroom in the Villa. They needed to find items that would complete the sigil. Hetty and Reva started looking for sticks and rocks and other small items that could be used. Chernok mumbled something and Hetty asked him to repeat it. He said, everything you need on on the sheet of paper. They needed the toys. Pixel as an elk ran back to the Villa and got the toys that they had used. Jaspar set them on the stone slab like the sigil he had done before. Suddenly an arcanloth demon appeared on the stone slab. It stretched and he began to speak about how it was nice to be in the open air but Reva was having none of it and she immediately fired her bow.
The moved into attack the fiend. He took all of the attacks - Reva with her bow on top of a mausoleum firing first, regular arrows but switching to magic ones when she saw that Henrich’s attack did not do the same amount as Hetty’s flying daggers. Jaspar cast Ray of Frost, pixel carried Hetty towards the fiend and after Hetty threw her daggers she leaped off beside the arcanaloth and gave it a flurry of blows. Pixel ran behind Henrich and then switch back to a cat. The arcanaloth smiled and cast Chain Lightning hitting everyone but Reva and the panthers. Henrich attacked as did the panthers. The arcanaloth then dimension doored 50ft away and then cast Fireball on the stone slab that everyone by Reva had gather around. Jaspar dropped. The panthers were hurt but still standing. Hetty was the least damaged that time and she ran behind the statue and poured a vial of holy water on it. Nothing happed so she attempted to push it onto the stone slab. Henrich rushed over to help her but the statue was heavy and they could not get it onto the slab. The arcanaloth cast Fire Bolt at Reva who returned shots of magic arrows at it. The panther surrounded the arcanaloth and attack with pounce attacks. Hetty pushed the statue again and this time it tipped over enough so that some of the holy water dripped on the sigil. The holy water sizzled as it hit the stone slab. Hetty took out another vial and poured the whole thing on the sigi. The signal and stone slab were both destroyed.
The arcanaloth said “Oh man, I see how it is. Go ahead just kill me now. I will see you again at some point. He then cast Finger of Death on Henrich was almost dropped but was able to continue fighting. Pixel healed Jaspar who then continued casting spells at the arcanaloth. Hetty threw her flying daggers, Pixel wildshaped to a giant constrictor snake and joined her panthers on the front line, Reva continued firing arrows. Soon, the arcanaloth was defeated and it, the stone slab, the statue of the little girl, the piece of paper with the Wooden Girl story and the sigil and Chernok all disappeared. As soon they disappeared, it started snowing again.
The group sat down right there and took a short rest to regain some of their health back. It was well beyond sunset so by now it was getting really cold. Pixel transformed back to a cat. They hopped into a private cab and went back to the Villa.
When they arrive, the imps have vanished, and another local bard was playing jovial tunes on the harpsicord. The Cassalanters and Captain Staget thank the characters for their help. Captain Staget makes Bots of the Winterlands available for whoever would like them. They also received Midwinter Gala magic items as well as a 100pp Gift card to the following shops:
Aurora’s Realms Shops, the following locations in Waterdeep: High Road, Singing Dolphin, Waterdeep Way, South High Road, Streets of Tusk – some magical but mostly mundane items for all your needs. (will email a copy of Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalogue) • The Riven Shield Shop – armor and magical armor (the same shop that Henrich had used to purchase armor) • Whistling Blades – weapons and magic weapons • Xobolb’s Old Shop
They tried to speak to the Cassalanters again concerning the strange cat that Pixel had encountered before. Ammalia did not know of such a thing in her house. When they asked again, she said that it had been a long day and that she and her husband need to take care of their children and then hopefully they might get some sleep that night. The Cassalanters thanked them again.
Aria was now healed, and she took her place once again on the dais. Her beautiful voice filled the chamber, engulfing the audience in a pleasant light that warms without burning.
The group then headed back to Trollskull. They sent a message to Ranaer saying that it would probably be the day after tomorrow before they would need his assistance. They healed themselves and then each went to their room to get much needed sleep.