They decided to move all the treasure they’d acquired into the top room of the observatory and leave it locked behind them, hoping it would remain safe while they ventured onward. They made their way down to the teleportation circle and used the keyword they’d found on Rezmir’s desk. After they’d all assembled on the magical symbols and readied their weapons, Crosby firmly spoke the word, “Draezir”, and with a gut wrenching lurch they suddenly found themselves outside under a clear blue sky breathing air that was both cold & fresh, and surrounded by dark pine woods. They were standing between two ancient stones and no more than a bowshot ahead along a path was a large house, with stone on the ground floor, timbers above. To the sides were three more pairs of standing stones. No movement inside the lodge or outside was observed during the few moments they took to get their bearings, but they quickly moved around to the side of the house unsure if they’re arrival had been witnessed.
Around the back they spotted two smaller buildings, a stable and a kennel. They found the former housed a wagon and a few draft horses but empty of people, however they could tell that dogs & their master occupied the latter. Because the building had both a front and back entrance the party split up and worked out the timing so those in front could open the door and charge in to surprise the occupants, then the back team including Seef could take advantage of the diversion and attack them from behind, hopefully quietly enough that they wouldn’t disturb anyone inside the lodge. Unfortunately the front door was stuck, and though they pulled mightily they were unable to force it open. They made enough noise in their attempt that they alerted those inside and soon it crashed open as a four-armed troll and his six ambush drakes poured forth ready to attack. It was a vicious fight and while they did beat their foes they were worried they’d made an awful ruckus which was likely to alert anyone inside the main building. They retreated to the stable for a short rest and were surprised nothing else showed up looking for them.
They decided to then try the back door, and as expected found it led into the kitchen where four cultists were preparing a meal. They were quickly slain before any could escape into the rest of building to warn others. The pantry was well stocked but empty of foes, so they ventured downstairs into the basement. They found three prisoners chained to the walls. Craggnor the Dwarf made no bones about being a Cultist under Varram the White, and his singed & chopped beard were testament to his recent tortures under Talis, the cultist currently in charge upstairs. The party left him where he was for the time being since he couldn’t be easily trusted, but they released the other two prisoners, a woman named Mirasella from Baldur’s Gate and a priest of Amaunator named Brother Caemon. They helped them hide in the stables and ministered to the wounds Mirasella had received while Brother Caemon explained Talis had been trying to recruit him to the Cult and had treated him very well all things considered. Even with the party’s assurances the troll and guard drakes were dead neither of the two were comfortable making a run down the mountain slope to Parnast in broad daylight unless Talis and her henchman, numbering four plus the kobolds & low level cultists maintaining the lodge, were eliminated.
They reentered the manor and quickly located a few human servants being forced to serve Talis and her fellow cultists. These too were safely ensconced in the stables before the party fought a helmed horror (capable of Evard’s Black Tentacles Crosby later explained) guarding the study and chased a couple dozen kobold servants from the house into the wilderness. In the study Callahorn was quite taken with a magical wall tapestry that seemed capable of transporting those who activated it and step through to a location near a deer, mountain goat or other wild game within 5 miles.
Having secured the main floor they moved up the large staircase and fairly easily determined that Talis and her bodyguards were waiting for them in the southwest corner. They took the opportunity to explore the remainder of the floor and found a magical spear named Dragongleam in the Armory, and magical armor and a scroll in what were likely Talis’ bedchamber. Finally in the room next to where Talis & her crew were waiting they found one of her bodyguards in a drunken stupor. Katya was going to wake him up to slay honorably but Yumi took care of things while the others discussed this with her. It was this noise that caused Talis to call through the door, welcoming the party to the lodge as her guests and asking if they could do business. Yumi was asked to remain outside in the hall until one of the party used a code word calling for an attack, that way at least one of them would be free of any magical spells or enchantments trying to trap them. Ready to challenge her most of the party entered and then held off their attacks when she greeted them guardedly but more warmly than they were expecting from a foe. She was holding a magical wand but was not threatening them with it, and asked again if they could do business. Crosby took the lead here and they spoke formally as wizards often do. Talis even gave them a chance to join the Cult, an offer Crosby didn’t immediately refuse to the concern of his fellow party members. Regardless, despite plenty of misgivings the party did end up bargaining an agreement with Talis. She shared a fair amount of information about the cult & its leadership, allies and plans including how the party could smuggle themselves onto Skyreach Castle in Parnast, using the wagon & horses in the stable, some of the crates and barrels in the pantry and a banner of five stripes colored black, blue, green, red & white poorly hidden in the linen room on the first floor. She gives them the pass phrase necessary to safely enter the castle, “Tiamat, Our Mother & Strength”. She also describes those likely present on Skyreach Castle and that given Rezmir’s orders as she passed through yesterday from Castle Naerytar the castle would likely be departing some time later today or tomorrow. She is very open about hoping the party can disrupt Rezmir’s plans and putting her in disfavor even if the party is unable to eliminate her. She vows to remain with her bodyguards in that room for the next couple hours as the party gets the wagon ready, restocks their supplies and brings Mirasella & Brother Caemon along for the trip.
By early evening they arrive at Parnast, stopping only briefly at the local tavern where they slyly show one of the cultists hand signs and are quickly informed by an agent there they’d best hurry on through town and reach the castle by nightfall as it’s leaving tonight. Just outside to town around a bend they find the castle mostly hidden by fog. Ogres man the battlements in the towers on either side of the gate. As their wagon crosses the bridge Crosby points to the two Stone Golems standing guard flanking the gate. The large statues turn their heads and glare menacingly at the wagon until Crosby quickly mutters the pass phrase given to them by Talis, whereupon they they face each other and stand still again. The party is directed to park their wagon at the mouth of a large tunnel that goes down into the heart of the glacier the cloud castle is built upon. A couple wagons were unloading in front of them, so when their turn came they knew what was expected. They quickly unloaded their crates and barrels down into the main vault, and while they didn’t see a white dragon directly it was noticeably colder down there. Their wagon and horses had been removed when they came back to the main level, and a cultist Dragonwing gave them a few short orders about staying in their appointed room except for meals which they could obtain in the kitchens. Then he tasked a few kobolds with showing them the kitchen for their supper and settling them into their quarters on the edge of the upper courtyard. They tried getting some information from their kobold guides but they were too busy to talk much, fearful if they tarried with serving everyone dinner they’d be punished. As the castle suddenly started lifting into the the sky they congratulated themselves upon successfully infiltrating the Cult this far, then started to plan their next move.