Grimnir walked into the ball room in the Maalthiir's citadel, followed by Experiment 321 and the drow paladin who had come with them from Yarash's, just in time it seemed. He found Dame, Traithe, Ash, and Melastasya encased in ice, Kevorkian trapped in a force cage with two zombies, and a fat woman sliding across the floor. Grimnir conjured a wall of fire to thaw out his frozen friends and Kevorkian invoked the presence of his god to provide some basic healing to get the four on their feet.
The Mad Blade. On the first hit, however, the blade appeared to shatter against the crown, and each of the six pieces of the blade transformed into a metallic-skinned, tentacled monstrosity and began attacking the party.
Traithe, shovel in hand, joined Mel in beating on the crowns, pantomiming to the newcomers that the crowns needed to be destroyed, but that they should not employ magic for that task.
The others, meanwhile, turned their attention to the fat Maalthir lying on the floor. Dame caused a nest of spikes to spring from the floor, impaling the woman and halting her movement. The drow then dropped one of the massive a chandeliers on the woman, crushing her. Grimnir gave her a couple of blasts in the head, just to be sure.
Expierment 321 taunted one of the tentacled things, which floated over and impaled the lizard with its tentacles. The drow rushed and cut the things off of the lizard-man, while Dame dispatched the others with her dagger of rust.
Mel, meanwhile, determined to be rid of the crowns, grabbed all three and dove through one of the massive stained-glass windows. She fell three stories to the courtyard below, broken and unconscious. Ash used a locate object to find the Citadel's smithy and dispatched Zorch to go there, fetch a pair of metal tongs, and meet Ash there with the crowns. Zorch did as commanded and collected the crowns, which retaliated with a trio of walls of fire, which the lightning mephit simply ignored.
Grimnir and Ash met the mephit at the forge and divined that the forge itself was magical in nature. While it was clear that they could not immediately destroy the crowns with fire or force, they devised a ritual by which they could attempt to purge the crowns of their sentience and their ability to dominate their wearers.
Through the use of several hands of the dead they learned that the women they had killed were nothing more than pampered aristocrats. The Maalthir, it seemed, were the crowns, with hosts being selected, seemingly at random, from within the aristocracy--new ones being taken whenever the old perished to maintain a continuing line of rule.
Once Kevorkian was freed from the force cage, he revived Melastasya and the party assembled at the smithy. Mel and Kevorkian, having some experience with crafting conspired to carry out the ritual reconstruction which Grimnir had devised, while the others set to work getting Hillsfar back into some semblance of order.
Months of Ches, Tarsakh, and Mirtul
While Mel and Kevorkian worked, Dame, Ash, and Grimnir met with Laris, the proprietor of Hillsfar's magic item shop, taking advantage of a rare opportunity to trade some of their accumulated magical treasures for new items. They acquired a variety of rings, bells, staves, bows, and wands to round out their arsenal of items.
Mel and Kevorkian's first attempts with the ritual failed miserably. Or rather, they succeeded, but not in a favorable way. They succeeded in destroying two of the three crowns, nearly killing themselves with the catastrophic explosion that accompanied it. In order to attempt the ritual on the last remaining crown, they went back to Laris and purchased the only headgear he had on hand, a large greathelm that granted the user the power of literacy. Thus armed, the two went back to the forge to try to turn the third cursed, sentient crown into something useful.
Grimnir set about putting the city's politics in order. At first attempting to coerce the city's leaders into making oaths on the skull of the testifier, only to find that such oaths were not binding. He the negotiated with the city's aristocrats, convincing them to give up the practice of slavery and enfranchise the non-humans in exchange for lifting the ban on necromancy, replacing their former free slave labor with equally free zombie laborers. He also placed a bounty on the heads of the Amazons, promising 16,666 gold pieces to anyone who would apprehend them, paint them blue, and leave them, alive, on the steps of Kryptgarten.
Traithe worked with the Red Plumes, who made up a good 30% of the still-living population of the city, to refortify the walls and repair the gates that had been damaged when they freed the gypsies. He opened the port, briefly to allow Valkur's Wake to pick up passengers, taking all of the gypsies back to Phlan to settle the newly cleaned Stowjanow River (after having them all magically cured of the plague of course). Grimnir accompanied them back, in disguise, to convince La Bouche to leave Kryptgarten and come take over governorship of Hillsfar.
Ash, meanwhile, began researching the plague, asking everyone still alive in town about possible causes, the Chaos Messiah Cult, the Lepers, transmission vectors, mitigation methods that worked, and so forth. He was unable to find any reliable information due to the mass deaths, the burning of the medical school, and the mass exodus to Kryptgarten of the chaos cultists. The clear success of the fires around the Citadel at least gave some hope that the plague was spread through mundane vectors, despite Grimnir's insistence that the plague was probably spiritual in nature.
A full three months after they began, with spring past and the Summer Solstice only a week away, Mel and Kevorkian finally completed their work on the third Crown of the Maalthiir, returning with an item they dubbed The Hat of Hoopdy.
The rest of the party had put Hillsfar mostly back into order -- the plague was still present, but under control, a new government, lead by La Bouche and supported by the aristocracy, was in operation, the walls were rebuilt, the people were starting to get used to the ubiquitous sight of thousands of undead roaming the streets, and things were mostly at peace.
Obviously they couldn't settle for such conditions, and called the Blessed Afflictor to begin planning a mass assault on Ash's former home--the legendary elven city of Myth Drannor, just south of Hillsfar. Ash filled them in on much of the History of Myth Drannor, the Weeping War, and the Mythal that guarded the city. He told them of the trio of Yugoloth that led the army of darkness to conquer the city, the great half-red/half-blue dragon that resurrected the fiends after their destruction, and his family supposed complicity in the attacks.
Dame made contact with and introduced the party to the druids of Cormanthor. The druids were loath to ally themselves with a scion of House Ellindir and an army of undead, but were eventually convinced to offer their assistance in purging the ancient city of whatever fiends now occupied it.
Next Stop: Myth Drannor...