The T.I.P. thrusts into the stone fortress Ban-Uldud, convinced by Parker Garcia of additional riches earned before his delivery to the Malkaran noble house Del Dega.
After rescuing Parker Garcia from the clutches of the Black Bell mercenary company, the T.I.P. interrogates their new guest. The half-elf has magical prowess but is a bit preoccupied as he's chained with manacles. Ren cleaves the manacles with her anchor, freeing the former prisoner. Parker is gracious, then asks who the party is. He's overly delighted that the T.I.P. has rescued him, and regales the party with stories he has heard of their exploits. The new members of the T.I.P. react with indifference.
Turns out Parker has some dealings with various members of house Del Dega, particularly Victoria. He's a spy - though treasure hunter might be the preferred term of endearment. He was on a mission to sneak into Ban-Uldud, a border fortress, and steal trade secrets from the house Dalceeni. This is complicated by the fortress's defenses, not only is the fortress inhabited by a retinue of warriors and adventurers that are tuned for battle, but the fortress's ruler turns out to be a blue dragon named Voltamar. Ownership is transferred through a meritocracy of sorts - the more meritorious one is at killing and maiming, the more likely one would be able to wrest control of Ban-Uldud. Turns out that blue dragons tend to be good at such things. The T.I.P. is meant to merely serve as a distraction while Parker infiltrates - despite time sensitive matters in Malkara, the T.I.P. agrees and they set off to the fortress.
The T.I.P. is cautious of Parker Garcia's motives, particularly the two rangers of the party. Bird Girl and Ake feel that something is uppity with this new companion of theirs, but they hold their tongues and maintain a close watch. Rinn is also weary, particularly given Voltamar's presence. They are descended from Silver dragons, and that heritage could potentially complicate matters. Bird Girl picks up on this and assures Rinn that she likes shiny dragons, and that under her care, things will probably turn out okay.
The party camps for the night and holds watch. Bird Girl lets Ren know about her suspicions toward Parker Garcia, which Ren considers. She calls him a black feather - a nod to other dealings they've had with some of the less altruistic people they've encountered. Ake stoically planks on a tree, while Rinn and Giacomo discuss the implications of travelling to a border fortress. They set up disguises for themselves - Giacomo's bears magical markings, and Rinn's is a large shawl with some green makeup.
In the morning, the party is greeted with breakfast by somebody with a fully fledged moustache. A human donned in plaid, he doesn't seem at all startled with this scenario. The party demands to know who he is. It's Parker Garcia. The party is confused to varying degrees - Kirin is convinced its due to magical means, Giacomo attempts to look deeply into the figure's consciousness to discern who it is, but only his Pact gazes back. The Pact recoils and disrupts everyone else's senses, causing them to become a bit disoriented and to see spots. Everyone else merely believes it's cool and a little bit odd, but nothing of great concern. Parker gives everyone breakfast, and makes light of his prodigious talents. After breakfast, they set out to Ban-Uldud.
The journey passes without incident, and soon they find themselves at the face of the fortress. Tents and improvised dwellings surround the fortress - many are wintering within its reach to protect from the surrounding wilderness. Black Bell and TSR - specifically the Ashhound - banners fly around the vicinity of the walls. The T.I.P. enters the grounds, and notices that Ban-Uldud's tallest tower is emitting a stream of black smoke.
The central grounds look like a gladiatorial arena, reminiscent of the Heap in Volos. Ren is familiar with these fighting circles and immediately investigates. Bird Girl swirls above and keeps a lookout for what Parker is upto. Ake also keeps a close watch of Parker, and notices that he slinks off into an alley adjacent to the church of the Ivory Throne.
A gnomish bookie near the ring notices a hulking Half-Orc approach him. He calls for her to come up and test her strength - there's good money in new finds. Ren agrees to the challenge, and sizes up the way these fighters classify their strength. By the gnome are seven stones of increasing size, presumably lifting one of sufficient size places one in that class. Ren doesn't quite grasp this and avows to lift all seven of the stones, which would be a truly marvelous and distracting feat. She easily lifts the first stone and begins drawing a crowd. These hardened warriors are impressed, but when she easily picks up the second heaviest stone in addition to the largest stone, they gasp with amazement. An eerie calm surrounds Ren as she enters a deep state of focus, then radiates a primal force of rage as Bird Girl assists with the third, then fourth, then fifth stones. The piles juts upward several feet, like an obelisk being raised by a team of workmen. Ren wavers slightly and grunts, then screams, quivering to maintain control. Bird Girl asks if she is finished.
Bird Girl obliges and places the sixth stone on the pile. At this perch, Bird Girl has a great viewing angle for the main grounds of the fortress. Ake is pursuing Parker Garcia as Giacomo gazes upon his former shipmate with awe. The pile quivers but stays erect as Ren digs yet deeper into a stance. At this point, most of the folk have turned their attention at this young Half-Orc marked as a Rilador. Bird Girl swoops down to pick up the final stone and ascends to the peak, gently balancing it above. Ren screams and shakes violently, but holds balance. You can almost see the dollar signs on the gnome's face as he knows how rich he will soon be.
With a resounding thud, the pile is dropped by Ren. She grins and asks the bookie what classification this makes her. The crowd swarms and guides her, along with Giacomo, into the Blue Dragon inn for celebration. The rest of the party heads to the alleys to pursue Parker.
At the inn, Ren is finally alone with Giacomo. She immediately demands why he has followed her, and more importantly, how he was able to survive. Giacomo seems surprised by this at first - then realizes the plight aboard their former ship, the Chickadee. Giacomo's family bailed him out after he washed ashore, but this doesn't quite explain everything. They talk about their fateful night aboard the ship.
Giacomo is a young sailor aboard the pirate ship, which is doing a typical run in the Windwatcher's Passage. The trip is fraught with potential twists and turns, which is why the ship's captain commissioned Giacomo to join them - a precaution against ill affairs. A storm swept the Chickadee suddenly, but something more ominous soon emerges from the sea. Below the deck, Giacomo is adjusting to life on the sea. A darkness envelops him, and he is greeted with a portal. He reaches in to observe what it is beyond this threshold - overhead, a huge writhing beast crests the sea. Ren sees this creature from her perch at the Crow's Nest, and beckons to her captain. At the threshold, Giacomo retrieves a sword, and the rest is history.
The rest of the team pursues Parker, which they quickly lose. His tracks have metamorphed again - they begin to consider tales of other races far to the East. Perhaps he is a changeling? Ake and Bird Girl continue their pursuit, but Kirin is thrown off by this. They wander around briefly, but soon find themself in front of a Diviner's shop. They are drawn in to the shop to ask questions.
The shop is empty except for a flamboyantly dressed figure with curled hair. Most of his attire is for show and provocation, but Kirin acknowledges that this is a trained mage. He introduces himself as Aldous, trained at the University in the magics of divination. Kirin asks for a scrying about her own magical nature, which Aldous obliges. The diviner asks about how Kirin performs magical rites and how well she did at the school in Isard. Kirin was a flunkie. A failure to their house. She expresses frustration with magic, where spells don't do what they're supposed to. Aldous asks for proof of this, and asks Kirin to shape a glass of water, a simple task for an abjurer such as Kirin. But the spell goes bad and she conjures burning hands and blazes the shop in a gout of flame. Aldous is singed but okay, and frantically douses his burning shop. After this, he turns to the dragonborn before him with curiosity. It seems like wild magic, something grasped at from strange means - perhaps the stars, themselves. Kirin scoffs at this, but Aldous is insistent. They are not a wizard. But they are gifted, nonetheless.
Bird Girl and Ake are alerted by the fire, and come into the shop. They see Kirin with the diviner, and see if everything's alright. Kirin tells Ake and Bird Girl about her magic, and how she's been unable to control it. They console her with pastries, then head back out to the grounds.
Twilight descends, which signals supper, a great feast! A young boy approaches the reunited T.I.P. with haste. Bird Girl recognizes him immediately - the young boy is Jeffrey from the Archer's Cradle in Tachros. What is he doing out in the frontier? Jeffrey beckons Kirin to attend a supper, by invitation from the lord of the keep. Kirin gasps - Voltamar knows she is here. She nervously agrees, with help from the party. To the corner, Dorian Keene emerges from the Blue Dragon and seeks a story - his compatriots seemed to have gotten themselves in another mess. Dorian is introduced to a gnome by Ren, who apparently is exploiting her for riches. A dragon's invitation beckons. A shapeshifter is running amok. Just another day.