Standing at the top of the pyramid and looking out over the ruined city, the party decided their best course of action was to find somewhere to rest and recover. And the mongrelmen lair seemed to be a good choice. But first Bjorn used the Censer to summon a massive air elemental to fly cover overhead. The trip to the mongrelmen was an uneventful three hour trek through the ruins, notable only for a spooky period when all sounds of the city ceased. Once at the hidden entrance to the lair, they were challenged again by the mongrelmen, who weren’t keen on letting them back in. Erijay tried to bluff them, saying she was Aratheas’ sister. That didn’t work, and neither did Gurruk‘s woodsy charm. However, Bjorn buffeted the guards by dropping the air elemental down on top of them, which convinced the mongrelmen that they’d better let them in. The party was guided to Aratheas’ old dwelling, apart from the main mongrelmen camp, where they spent an uneventful night to recover and relearn spells. And decide what to do next. Kern was intent on getting out of the city and back through the gate to Westmist. Riley pushed for dealing with Horen, both for the greater good and to make sure there was no one left behind to come back through the gate to get them. In the end, Riley carried the day, especially since they had the elemental to be their heavy muscle.
Getting vague directions from the mongrelmen, Bjorn again summoned the elemental to fly cover and cast invisibility on himself as protection. The party then headed back towards the yg-ti temple (which still showed no signs of activity) and then cut east along a series of old back alleys. About an hour from the temple, the alley intersected with a main thoroughfare. About 100 feet to the left lay Horen’s house; a wood and stone structure surrounded by a wall of unmortared stone. While the rest of the party hid as well as they could, Kern donned his ring of invisibility and scouted around the walled compound. He found three gates, and was able to easily use some vines to climb the wall and look inside. A pair of tranquil gardens lay in the southeast and southwest corners (one occupied by 3 strange creatures), and a pair of rough sheds or barracks the lay in the northern corners. And in the centre lay the house. There were no signs of activity, although Kern did feel as if something was probing his mind. He also noted that wisps of smoke or fog leaking out of the house. Kern slipped back to his companions to report. While weighing the pros and cons of a stealthy vs frontal assault, it was rightly noted that the elemental swirling overhead had probably already given away their presence. So brute force it was, and the elemental was used as a battering ram to bust through the gates and into the compound. Once inside, everyone stopped for a moment while Erijay cast haste. Before they could start again, a wall of ice appeared, blocking access to the veranda and doors into the house. No matter, as Bjorn simply ordered the elemental to blast though the nearest wall. Out of the splintered wood and bamboo raced three critters; two leopards and a shadowy hound. The leopards were put to sleep by Erijay, and the rest of the party tired to deal with the hound. The animal, however, tore into the elemental inflicting vicious damage, while no one could land a blow on it. So Riley called on Habuu to dispel the creature.
That done, the elemental was sent deeper into the house. Visibility was pretty much nil, except for Erijay who cast detect invisible and could see a human figure ahead, facing off against the elemental. The figure cast a spell, and a cone of cold swept over the party, chilling all to within a hairs breath of death (except Bjorn, who luckily was out of range). Before the figure could do much else, the combined blows of the party cut it down. The fog now started to dissipate, and they could see their foe was Horen. But before much else could happen, there came the sound of chanting from outside the room, and Erijay, Gurruk and Riley were encased in a web. Kern avoided the web and noticed a robed figured running away through the house. He tried to follow, but was too heavily laden with treasure to catch up. So Bjorn sent the air elemental blasting though the rest of the house, but it too could not catch the lithe fleeing figure before it disappeared.
Back in the house, Kern started searching the room while the other three worked their way out of the web. Unfortunately, the elemental had done short work of the fragile building, and anything of value had been blasted to splinters and tatters of paper. He had more luck when searching Horen’s body, coming up with a set of bracers, dagger, potion, scroll and an intricately carved little chest. By this time, Erijay, Gurruk and Riley had escaped from the web and the prudent decision was made to get out of the city quickly before there was any other trouble. Thinking they might hide and rest with the mongrelmen again, the party headed that way. But this time rather than let them in, the mongrelmen directed them to the nearby cliff wall where a narrow path wound its way up and out of the city. Thankful to avoid the tunnel entrance again, the party climbed out of the ruined city, and then marched back through the jungle to the gate. Plugging in their gems, they passed through and found themselves back in the cellar of their house. Kern quickly removed the gems on their side, but did note it was still open from the other side so they were going to have to figure out what to do with that unfortunate back door.
The loyal Riker met them on the main floor, pleased to see them all back together and in one piece. Little of note had happened in their short absence; the March Baron had not yet returned from the west, and Jax was now ensconced in Westmist Keep as Lord Merdwyn’s seneschal. He did report an odd vist several days ago from three men, dressed in ragged and half rotted clothing. Giving their names as Guy, Hengest and Cal, the reported they were employees of Kern and Darnorth and were there to demand about 6 months of back pay. The three went away when Rikar indicated his masters were not present, but he expected them to return. Rikar also reported a ragged looking elf who had been watching the house over the last few days.
Puzzled and nervous about these visitations, the party none the less had work to do. Treasure to appraise and items to identify. A trip to Afflain the fence took care of the jewelry and gems, while a trip to Synthini, plus some fiddling around, identified their magic items (bracers of defense AC4, potion of extra healing, scroll of ward against magic, dagger +1). She also examined the small chest, and declared it was the material component of a secret chest spell; it could be used to summon the real chest associated with it. This Bjorn did, and there appeared a black lacquered chest covered with the design of a demonic figure trailing its long beard over an orb. Finding no visible keyhole, Kern looked for traps and found telltale signs of magical protection. Riley was going to dispel it, but stopped when he realized that would probably make the chest disappear. Instead, Gurruk offered to open it, so Riley cast a serious of protection spells on the beastmaster. The chest opened easily, but Gurruk’s beard immediately began to grow at a prodigious rate. Riley quickly fired a remove curse at Gurruk before his beard filled the room. Inside the chest was a potion of extra healing, scroll (heal, cure disease), 1000pp and 3 gold tablets. The chest was then carefully closed and put away until they could figure out how to use it in a non-hirsute manner.
While at Synthini’s, Erijay also presented the strange snake helix for identification. At which point the alchemist turned white as a ghost and demanded the item be removed from her presence. It was, Synthini said, an artifact of great evil and she would have nothing to do with it. At this Riley simply demanded that it be delivered to the Temple of the Three Virtues forthwith so the powers of the church could deal with it. No one was going to argue with the cleric when his temper was up, so they headed off to see Liphanes of the Highest Virtue. Riley told of their adventures in the forbidden city, and then presented the artifact to the priest. He likewise turned pale, and explained it was indeed a thing of great evil. Following the proper rituals, it could be used to physically summon an aspect of the god Yg, which could them be put to untold horrible uses. Liphanes would see that it was destroyed in the proper manner, and Riley would be rewarded for his service to the church.