The plan was to send Damian the elf ranger through the portal where we'd arrived, then have him smash the crystal that used the fire elemental to power it from the other side. This appeared to work, as that portal abruptly stopped working a few minutes after he went through.
So the rest of us go through the other portal into the room with the cryo-hydra, and ruin waits while the rest of the group opens the door ("Penis!") into the next room, then waits longer while Martini opens the lock on the trap door above. Once everybody else is up in the next room, Ruin backs up next to the ladder and shoots the crystal with an arrow. He then sprints straight up the ladder, where he discovers that they haven't actually opened the next door and gotten clear.
The hydra gives chase immediately, but they manage to get the door open and get out with only a little bit of cold damage. (Well... nobody died, at least.) Azrael and Martini move on down the hall, getting out of range of the trapped hydra...
Only Azrael (our mage, somwhat frostbitten) and Martini (largely okay) have encountered another creature up ahead: an eyeless creature with elaborate flaps on the side of its head, and curious tubular mouth that it used to emit sonic attacks. Which it promptly does, knocking Azrael unconscious.
Behind them, Ruin closes the door on the hydra, and he and Mercy move up the corridor. (Ruin's brother Devonin and the mayor of the town of Willowind are presumably with them, but we weren't tracking them for combat purposes and so we're basically assuming that Devonin was protecting the mayor and not doing much of anything else.) The hydra continues trying to blast the door open with its frost breast. Ruin moves twice as fast as Reverend Mercy (because Ruin is a barbarian, and Mercy is wearing plat mail) and gets in the sound-monster's face to distract it. Martini, meanwhile, makes an effort to move silently -- and succeeds, making her effectively invisible while Mercy pauses to get Azrael back on his feet.
So Ruin and Mercy continue pounding on the thing, with Ruin taking the bulk of the damage from it. Somewhere in there, the hydra destroys the door in a burst of frost, but it hasn't actually climbed up; it's just sticking its heads up through the trapdoor, and the rest of us are well out of range down the passageway. But, y'know, that's going to be a problem if it ever gets up to to this level. Hopefully the trapdoor is too small to let it through.
By the time Martini finishes off the sound-beast, the whole group is in pretty bad shape. We really need to take a rest, but the hydra is still back there, scrabbling and clawing and trying to pull itself up. We throw around enough healing spells to get everybody semi-functional (emphasis on "semi") and then move towards the passage that looks most likely to let us out. At last, we enter a large room with what appears to be another ladder leading up on the far end; only it's full of a handful and a half of zombies.
Martini, meanwhile, hears a weird slurping sound from off to one side, but she can't tell what it's coming from and nobody else hears it. The room isn't exactly empty, though; it has two enclosures about halfway across, which probably double as supports for the ceiling. So when Mercy uses the divine power of Artem-hiss to turn the zombies into harmless piles of dust, we take off for the exit. If there's anything else in here, maybe it and the hydra will destroy each other.
Martini and Ruin, making a straight line down the middle of the room, make it almost to the ladder. Azrael, just a hair closer to one of the enclosures, is most of the way to us when a horrible semi-skeletal undead monster steps out from behind the enclosure and tries to lick him with its pulsing purple tongue. Without pausing, Azrael grabs the thing, twirls it around, dips it, and then steps past and continues on his way, arriving beside us. Mercy, passing beside the other enclosure is ambushed by a second one; he isn't affected by its attack, but he moves more slowly than the rest of us and winds up with the two of them between him and us.
Martini is a rogue; her ability to deal damage isn't much against undead. So she continues on to the trap door, and after a moment manages to unlock it. Finding herself in a small stone room above, she attempts to unlock the single door that leads out of that.
Azrael, meanwhile, uses Glitterdust to blind the two undead. Ruin engages one of the blind undead monsters in combat, while Mercy take a couple of rounds to step back and cast spells on himself while evading the second one's attacks. Once he's finished that, he engages with it as well. Between the two of us, we do some decent damage... until the hydra finally manages to get up through the trap door. It's now on the same level we are. Ruin hears it and calls a warning to Mercy; Ruin then get paralyzed by one of his opponent's tongue attacks. (Ruin and Mercy both were highly resistant, but this had to happen sooner or later.)
Azrael, who was starting up the ladder, drops back down, puts a hand on Ruin, and uses Dimension Door to get both of them into the room at the top of the ladder. Mercy manages to extricate himself and get up the ladder as well, and we close the trap door -- killing one of the two undead in the process. Barely. Fortunately.
Martini, meanwhile, has gotten the outer door open, and we've all emerged from a mausoleum into a graveyard. ("Oh, it's the old Windwhisper burial grounds," [or something like that] says the mayor. "We're not far from my house!" Darvinin ushers him further out of danger.) Ruin closes the door behind them, but the second undead monster kicks it open... whereupon Reverend Mercy casts Searing Light and misses it completely.
It tries to rush us, but fortunately we're able to finish it off before it can do any more damage.
The mayor offers us tea and gratitude, which Ruin is pretty happy with given that the whole plan was perfectly insane to begin with. (He can say that, it was his plan.) Martini, on the other hand, is pretty angry that there isn't any more tangible reward, but our dude is the mayor of a relatively small town and they don't have tons of money or magic sitting around out here. The hydra apparently finds itself stymied by the final trapdoor, which really is too small for it.
After a bit of discussion, Darvinin heads off to report back to the general. He's still going to need an elvish tonne of therapy, but he's intact enough to make the journey. The mayor stays put, of course, and the rest of us head back to Annun.
The High Provost is thrilled to see us, and hands over a ring of protection +3 (which goes to Martini because A. she's his favorite, and B. it'll do her the most good, we think). As we walk through our discoveries, he gets very distracted about the secret note about the atoll and mentions that they'd captured another, similarly coded note advising someone to "seek the lignite tree". Annun has been dealing with a lot of pirates who seem to have been hired by Kaz and Cassidia (or however you want to spell the plurals of those names) to search the atolls for something. (He also mentions in passing that those names are essentially titles within the worshippers of Vecna.) He knows they're looking for something and he knows they're serious about it, but there is no island of the name given in the... wait a minute, he has an idea. Can we come back tomorrow while he follows up on this?
Of course we can. We take advantage of his willingness to put us up at a very nice inn, and have a hot bath (and in Ruin's case, a full bottle of whiskey; in Mercy's case, a willing elven maid who helps him bathe).
Then we go shopping. For Azrael, a headband of intellect ("Something has to make you smarter, brother.") and some new spells; for Ruin and Martini, new weapons with more powerful enchantments. When we get a bit more money, we need to put Reverend Mercy in highly-enchanted mithril plate armor, so he can keep up with us and not be killed in combat; but for the moment, he instead selected a Necklace of Adaptation, which allows him to breathe underwater and function normally in the middle of several of Azrael's area-effect spells, e.g. Stinking Cloud.) And in the morning, we return to the Provost.
High Provost Luthien, it turns out, is something of a scholar. He's extremely excited by the research he's done and the discovery he thinks he's made: there's a small, diamond-shaped isle that used to go by that name until there was a conclave of dragons and possibly a few other historically-significant events -- after which the island was renamed to something that translates roughly as "the island of the gods". It's empty of humans and other races, but full of beasts and a few dragons. It's also fraught with legends, and is the sort of place where pirates probably wouldn't go. There's a forest on the south end with a circle of dead trees or something, and he thinks the "lignite tree" is there -- and that it's desperately important for us to get to the tree before the Vecna worshippers do. However, he also points out that this is a mythical island, and discretion is definitely the better part of valor.
We agree to this, and Ruin brings the provost up to speed on the rest of their intelligence: the human force beneath serpent's head (RIP); the Duke's dungeons; the army of elves that Devonin was sent to investigate, who wore the colors of Aramar (the same as Devonin does) but killed his companion and turned him over to the duke's torturer before a Solari led them off to the west.
Luthien is very concerned about this, and immediately sets his seneschal to inventory every single bit of weaponry, equipment, and uniform in their stocks -- by hand. Something big is going on, and none of us understand what it is.
Meanwhile, he sets us up with wagons to get us to the coast, and a boat to take us across to the islands. (These are actually inland, on something that appears to be either a great lake or a Mediterranean-equivalent inland sea; probably the latter.) So, once again, we're off.
I wonder what Ruin's parents think of all this?