Back outside Mor, Erijay, Kern and Darnorth decided to ride east into the rising sun, hoping to make it back to Westmist to see what had happened in their absence. Riding hard, they found themselves, as the sun began to sink behind them, approaching the river ford just before what used to be Braksis’ Hold. Here they found a group of men on horseback, fussing with something on the ground. Cautiously moving forward, they noticed the men were in the livery of the March Barons Horseguard, and they were searching/looting the bodies of a couple dozen hobgoblins. The men also noted them, and formed a defensive formation before hailing the party. Each side determined the other was no immediate threat, and conversation and information trading ensued. From the sergeant-lieutenant, the party learned the final battle with the hobgoblins had ended in victory a few days earlier. These men were hunting down stragglers, and were preparing to rejoin the March Baron at the ruins of Nasper. Where, according to the sergeant-lieutenant, he had assembled most of his army and was putting down some roots. At this point the solider starting asking pointed questions about what the party was up to, and Kern tried to bluff his way though by saying they were on a secret mission for the March Baron, spying on the hobgoblins to the west. Not sure whether to believe Kern or not, the sergeant-lieutenant ‘insisted’ that the party accompany his troop back to Nasper so they could report on their mission to the March Baron.
Unwilling to get into a fight with the March Barons men at this time, and figuring they might learn something in the process, the party agree. After a nights rest, they crossed the ford and rode south , arriving in Nasper at about noon. The ruined town looked much like it did when the trio had last seen it, except for the addition of more defensive works (courteous of the previous hobgoblin occupants) and the fact that it was now swarming with the March Baron’s men. In particular, they could see a small army of tradesmen at work on the island in the river, repairing the castle. Other men swarmed around the warehouses below the ruins, going through the supplies captured from the hobgoblins. Crossing by boat to the island, the party was left to wait at the docks while the sergeant-lieutenant went to report. A short time later, Lord Merdwyn himself appeared, looking none too pleased to see the party. He first questioned them to find out what they knew about what was going on, then made it clear that a) they were not welcome there and b) he wished to keep his activities secret for the time being. He suggested the party travel back to Westmist with some of his own men who were heading that way, and a short time later a troop of his Horseguards arrived, headed by the mysterious Jax. Again the party agreed, though they were wary of the man in black and did their best to keep their distance on the ride back to Westmist. However, here they saw their chance to find out more about the March Baron’s plans and Jax. So Erijay prepared to cast her ESP spell. But before she got more than two words out, Jax spun around on his horse and said to the elf in a cruel voice: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”. He proceeded to tell the party he knew what they were up to, always knew what they were up to, and they had better think twice about trying to double cross either himself or the March Baron. Or the consequences would be severe. Flabbergasted by this turn of events, the party could do nothing but agree and meekly finished the journey back to Westmist. Where, with one last warning from Jax, they were free to go about their own business.
Which first involved checking in with their house and Riker. There, they found Bjorn back to full health and everything in order. From Riker they learned there had been much celebration in town with news of the March Baron’s victory (as well as much cleaning up and burning of bodies from the battle here). But there was no hint that anyone in Westmist knew exactly what Lord Merdwyn was up to in Nasper. Sir Wyder and the King’s Green Company had arrived back in town a few days ago, heading back to Kingsford with a gaggle of hobgoblin prisoners and reports on the fighting for the king. He also had given no hints of the March Baron’s current activities.
While intrigued by al this intrigue, there was some work to be done after being away so long. Treasure to be sold, books and magic items to peruse, and (finally) a wish to be made. First, the book Erijay had recovered from the halls beneath the burial mound. Darnorth, thanks to his helm, was able to decipher it. It was a collection of notes tracing the whereabouts of four apparently powerful magic items: The Golden Mask of Nythal; the Machine of Radioactive Light; the Throne of the Ancient Ones; and the Skull of Chodak. It wasn’t made clear what these items did, but they were located in various places in the Lands of 1000 Wizards in the distant west. Filing that away for future reference, they now watched as Darnorth placed the ring on his hand. With a sigh of relief, nothing untoward happened, and the dwarf discovered it was a ring of spell storing containing a number of spells including two wishes! And with fingers crossed he made the following wish: “Any ill effects caused by wraiths, past, present or future, to Darnorth, Kern, Erijay, Riley, Turrick, Bjorn, Gurruk, will be nullified”. With that, the dwarf felt a return of the vigor he had before his unfortunate encounters with the spectral undead.
After a night in their own beds for once, the four (Erijay, Darnorth, Kern, Bjorn) prepared to do a little more work around town and then try all six star rubies in the gate in the cellar. Which gearing up, however, Erijay noticed her special snake sword was missing. A search of the house did not uncover it. But Kern did notice subtle signs that someone had searched the house while they slept. That said, he couldn’t find any sign of entry into the house from the outside. This immediately made they all think of the gate. Kern noted a faint trail of humanoid footprints down the stairs to the cellar and into the secret room with the gate. They fit all six gems into the sockets around the gate, and found themselves looking into a jungle cleaning. While the others discussed what to do, Darnorth walked right through and found himself indeed in the jungle. On his side, the gate had a snake motif, as well as sockets for four gems (currently empty). When the dwarf tried to return to the cellar, he was unable to do so. Some experimentation showed that inanimate objects could pass back and forth, but they could not speak through the gate. Using hand signals, Kern told Darnorth to sit tight while the rest of the party laid in supplies before joining him on the other side. But Darnorth started signaling franticly and pointing to a party of jungle tribesmen emerging from the undergrowth and advancing on the dwarf. Quickly instructing Riker to check the gate daily in case the party had need of supplies (and to send Riley and Gurruk though if they returned), Kern, Erijay and Bjorn passed through the gate to stand with Darnorth.
One tribesman stepped forward and started to speak in some outlandish tongue. Darnorth, thanks again to his helm, could understand him but could not answer. The tribesman asked if they were with the “Servants”. Having no idea what that meant, Darnorth signaled yes they were. The tribesman was not convinced however, and insisted (at the end of a blowgun) that they follow him back to his village to consult with the chief. Once more the party was marched off under guard, finding themselves moving through hilly jungle on the flanks of a low mountain. Climbing down, they crossed a stream and intersecting trail, then up the other side of the ravine to find themselves on a grassy ridge where lay a village. There they were greeted by the trial chief, questioned some more, and offered the hospitality of his longhouse while messengers were sent to bring the “Servants” to see the party. Seeing no immediate way to deal with a village of hundreds of cannibals, the party settled in for the night (but passed on the feast of ‘long pig’ over the longhouse fire). However, they had no intention of being around when the “Servants” arrived. After most of the chief’s wives and warriors had fallen into sleep, Erijay helped those guards still awake on their way to slumber with a sleep spell. Kern donned his ring of invisibility and scouted around the village before collecting his companions and all four headed off into the jungle to hide and see who showed up in the morning. That proved to be a group of bugbears led by a human-like creature with oddly scaly skin. Still invisible and wearing Darnorth’s helm, Kern listed in as the creature berated the chief for letting the party escape before he could size them up and see if they were friend or foe. The chief them ordered his men into the jungle to hunt the party down. But Kern had already roused them and they headed back along the trial, this time taking the fork that led away from the village and gate to see where the bugbears and scaly man had come from. A few hours later, the four found themselves standing at the end of a wide ravine. Ahead of them a wide, worked stone passage, led into the side of the mountain …