The party stared, mouths agape, as Aven plucked his own eye out and shoved the gem that had been in the eye socket of Vordakai into its place. Aven blinked for a moment and then was once again able to focus. Although blood was rapidly drying on his cheek, he did not seem any worse off at a casual glance. The gem, now fully inserted into Aven's eye socket, glowed with a small flame in its center.
The group to a few minutes to recover from the fight and to heal up, while also helping to release Cice from her paralysis. They then thoroughly searched the area that Vordakai had made his base of operations and gathered up all the coins, weapons and other treasures they could carry. Of note were the dozens of soul jars, most of which were full, that were also located. The party carefully gathered these up and took them with them so that they could attempt to identify the trapped souls, and hopefully recover those who were missing.
As this was happening, Darrick was making his way toward Vordakai's island, having returned to the capitol a short while ago. As Darrick was on the shore of the island and inspecting the doorway into the ancient cyclopean structure, he heard the approach of a well armored orc on the opposite shore. This orc made no attempt to conceal himself and eventually sat down upon the shore as he looked around, seeming to search for something, or someone. Curious, Darrick eventually called out to the orc and discovered that the orc was looking for the leaders of Pohjola as he had been sent from the church of Gorum to ensure that the new nation was indeed building a military academy as they had promised a couple years prior. Darrick indicated that he knew the leaders and invited the orc, Sergeant York, to join him as he too was looking to catch up with them. Darrick and York made their way through the Cyclopean structure and eventually caught up to the rest of the party as they were preparing to leave.
From there, the party set out to reunite Xamanthe with her tribe. The trip to the Nomen tribe was mostly uneventful, though the party did notice that Aven's freedom of movement, that counteracted the paralysis effect of Vordakai's touch never seemed to wear off, even though Cice required additional castings before her curse was eventually broken. When Xamanthe was returned to her tribe, the centaurs were quite grateful, especially Aecora Silverfire who provided gifts to the party for their efforts in rescuing her daughter.
After spending some time catching up with the centaurs, the party decided to head to Restov in order to resupply and to perhaps inquire about Vlad's family. Along the way they decided to stop in Varnhold and test their theory that the soul jars in Vordakai's possession contained the souls of the people of Varnhold. Upon reaching the site of the town, the party noticed that the spriggans had begun to spread out a bit, but they still left the party alone. The party then tested the theory of the soul jars by breaking one of them. In a puff of smoke one of the missing townspeople appeared, confused and for the most part unaware of the events of the past several months. He was able to recount hearing some sort of a haunting melody in the air, but little else. The party then began to quickly break the rest of the jars and soon were able to retrieve most of the missing townsfolk (minus those that they had already discovered dead in Vordakai's lair).
It was not long before the party recognized the problem that the return of the Varnholders would create with respect to the spriggans whom the party had given the fortress. Vlad decided to play the role of intermediary. After some hours of negotiations, the spriggans and the Varnholders, now lead by Maegar Varn's daughter Holly were able to reach an agreement. One side of the river would be given to the spriggans while the Varnholders would regain the other side, along with the fortress they had built there. In return for everything he had done for her people, Holly then pledge fealty to Baron Black, though the decision was made to allow Varnhold to operate on its own for the time being. Holly also indicated that she would personally reach out to the centaurs and offer up whatever recompense they required for the sins of her father.
Just as everything appeared as though it was going to work out well, a guard atop the fortress spied the approach of horsemen in the distance. It was then revealed that the horsemen were riding under the personal banner of the Surtova family, indicating that a member of the family was in their presence. At this news, Holly became pale and very nervous. When questioned, she disclosed that shortly before Varnhold vanished, her father had reached out to the regent, Noleski Surtova for aid in his struggles with the centaurs. As part of the agreement, Surtova agreed to send aid, but also demanded that Holly be wed to his cousin, Nicolai Surtova. This marriage would have the effect of granting the Surtovas a foothold in the Stolen Lands and would also jeopardize any fealty that Varnhold may have to Pohjola.
The party suggested to Holly that she simply refuse, but she pointed out that unfortunately, the Stolen Lands technically lay within the boundaries of the River Kingdoms and that one of the tenets of the River Kingdoms was that "Oathbreakers die." Even though it was not her oath, but her father's, that oath was passed unto her upon his death. The party quickly thought through their options, and their knowledge of the River Kingdoms, and soon stumbled upon one of the other tenets "You have what you hold". After some discussion, they soon came to the conclusion that "You have what you hold" would supecede "Oathbreakers die." Sergeant York immediately offered to marry Holly, a thought that troubled her more than a marriage to a Surtova. Fortunately for her, Darrick eventually agreed to wed her and preparations were hastily made.
When Nicolai arrived, he proclaimed he was there to "claim his prize" and was told that Holly had just been wed to Darrick. Nicolai protested but agreed to at least wait through the celebration feast before doing anything rash. As the feast was prepared the party tried to probe into Nicolai's motivations. Upon speaking with the captain of Nicolai's guard, Padraig Penningten, Vlad learned that it was unusual that Nicolai would be interested in marrying . . . a woman, but he chalked it up to never knowing what goes through the heads of the nobles. Padraig also let it be known that he really was a captain of Noleski Surtova's guard but that the King/Regent had tasked him with ensuring that Nicolai arrived safely in Varnhold. Vlad then disguised himself as a humble townsperson and tried to get a member of Nicolai's guard to spar with him, but none of them would loan him a sword to do so. They informed him that they would be happy to spar with him if he were to find a weapon, but that their training was that they never give up their weapon, even for a friendly sparring contest.
As the feast progressed, everyone seemed to have a good time and eventually even Nicolai admitted that he was impressed by the political maneuvering done on behalf of Holly. He suggested that he strongly believed that Darrick and Holly's marriage was nothing more than one of convenience, but conceded that his own marriage would have been the same. He then produced a bottle of wine that he stated he had intended to drink on his wedding night and instead gifted it to the newlyweds.
The following day Nicolai prepared to return to Brevoy but did take time to converse with Vlad and the rest of the party. He indicated to Vlad that he did not know all the details behind the arrest of Vlad's family, but indicated that he would try to learn more and would pass along any information he gained to Vlad. Before they left though, Sergeant York inquired of Nicolai's guards if any of them would be willing to partake in a friendly sparring match. Eventually, Padraig agreed to and both sides agreed that no deadly blows would be delivered and that attacks would be made with the flat of the blades only. Although York got a few blows in on Padraig, he was soon defeated in the friendly duel by the veteran soldier.