After a few days back in Westmist, Kern called the party together to fill them in on information he had been collecting about the March Baron and all the somewhat shady goings on over the last few months. Kern had discovered that, first of all, the King was not privy to Lord Merdwyn latest caper, setting up an independent County Palatine. And Lord Merdwyn at least was worried he would take offense and was going out of his way to placate His Majesty. While this was going on, the March Baron continued to consolidate his hold on the old town of Nasper. This was being bankrolled by a treasure trove recovered, by the March Baron (assisted by another group of adventurers) from below Nasper Castle. And thirdly, there was something fishy going on with the March Baron, Jax and Sir Wyder (the King's recent representative in Westmist). Although the royal knight was seen passing through Westmist after the hobgoblin battles, reports uncovered by Kern seemed to point to the knight’s death in battle. Which left open the question of who was this other Sir Wyder? Kern warned that one of his spies had been discovered and dismissed from the March Baron's service. While he doesn't think the person can be traced back to him, it is a reason to be extra careful around Jax and the March Baron for now.
While all of great interest, this was not information that could be acted n at once. For now, Riley and Kern paid a visit to Thuridici the Sage. They wished to question him about the secret chest recovered from the Forbidden City, as well as the gate by which they had reached that city. The irritable academic met with them and, after being shown the chest, agreed to take the job (for a paltry 1000gp) of determining how to bypass the beard curse when opening it. The carving, he said, seemed to depict one of the many of demons worshipped in the far southern jungles. As for the gate, he was surprised to find that there was such a thing hidden in a Westmist cellar. Based on the description, he immediately declared it to be one of them many Gates of the Wind Wizards of Foronaxos. The Wind Wizards were a powerful group of mages who specialized in the building and use of magical gates. They had done so since the beginning of recorded history, even back before the Godwars that destroyed the first fabled civilizations of man. The last known member of the order was reportedly seen several hundred years ago, and to the best of Thuridici's knowledge they were no more. Their gates were powered by precious gems, and each gate could be opened to different locations depending on the actual combination of gems (star ruby, star sapphire, blue diamond, and even fabled star topaz) inserted into the slots. Surprised to find their gate could lead to many dangerous places, Kern asked if it was possible to destroy or block it. Horrified at the thought of destroying such an artifact, Thuridici did believe it possible to block passage through it by some other means. But could not say how without further research (at a cost of 3000gp). Kern and Riley, checking their coin purse, choose not to hire the sage at this point, and opted instead for the temporary expedient of having Slate build a wall across the gate to prevent any unwanted visitors from entering the house.
Thirsty still for information, Kern suggested a trip to Stonehell to speak with Lachesis. Mainly to find out if it was possible to sleep in the dungeon safely. Back into the depths went Kern (and Bjorn) and Riley (and Gurruk), only to be stopped almost immediately by a new door that blocked access to the old hobgoblin fortress and the stairs to the lower levels. While not trapped, the door was barred, so Riley decided to knock and see who answered. A small slot opened in the door, a pair of eyes peered out and a strangely familiar voice asked "Who are you? What is your business here?" The cleric, showing immense self control, explained who they were and their desire to head deeper in the dungeon. At which point the voice asked "Ah, Brother Riley. Do you not remember us?" Which, after a little further back and forth, led to the discovery that holding the door and old fortress against them was a band of their former hirelings and henchmen. Mysteriously (?) back from their former dungeon graves. While not happy at their previous treatment (i.e. left for dead) by the party, the band agreed that in return for a small 50gp fee, the party would be free to pass their door in perpetuity. Chaffing at the embarrassment of being shaken down by their dead hirelings, the quartet none the less passed through without incident, greeting previously dead acquaintances along the way.
Past that hurdle, the headed straight to Lachesis. That lady agreed to meet with them, and in exchange for the usual fee, answered their questions about sleeping in the dungeon. She dismissed the story of insanity in anyone sleeping below ground as a baseless myth. She had lived in Stonehell for many years, and was she not sane? The biggest problem would be finding a place where the resting party would not be continually disturbed by the denizens of the dungeon. She did offer, for an additional fee, to give directions to a location of a room on the second level guaranteed to give them a peaceful place to rest. Kern and Riley, however, checked their bank balance and choose to not spend any more coin at this time.
Having taken leave of the spy mistress, Kern now convinced Riley to go with him to the garden area to take revenge on Urushiol, the crazed guardian of the gardens who had cheated Kern and Darnorth in their previous dealings. Riley agreed, so off to the gardens they went. And immediately set off the same screaming alarm that was set of on previous visits. Hoping to still recover some element of surprise, Kern donned his ring of invisibility and crept ahead of the party. What he found was not comforting. Urushiol's fungal cavern was now filled with a massive web cave, just like those built by the spell spiders. Wandering around it were a dozen emunyfolk, acting strangely subdued. Kern went back to fetch the rest of the party, and they then decided to try talking to the emunyfolk to find out what had happened. No luck though, as the mushroom men instead shuffled towards the group to attack. Although well outnumbered, the party's vicious response caused the emunyfolk to pull back. At which point Kern saw more trouble; a massive spell spider crawling across the ceiling and casting spells. As magic missiles slammed into the party, the huge arachnid dropped on top of them and started to tear into them. Kern however, was able to slip on his ring of invisibility again, and get behind the beast, driving his sword deep into its gullet. Mortally wounded, it turned on Kern, but was beaten down and slain by Riley, Bjorn and Gurruk. With the death of the spider, the emunyfolk seemed to come out of their stupor. They immediately headed for one end of the web cave, and their recovered the body of Urushiol, whom they carried off to bury. The party, meanwhile, looked for loot, and recovered the rest of Urushiol's old hoard below the remains of her giant mushroom.
While not exactly the vengeance he desired, Kern was satisfied. Riley, however, now wanted to drop to the fourth level and recovered the statue that seemed to strip away age. He figured Zoloren would pay well for such an artifact. So down they went. Bjorn cast floating disk and the four of them then carefully (without touching it), used a clock to drag the statue over to the disk, and tipped it onto the magical carrier. Heading back up to exit the dungeon, the spell expired about halfway, forcing them to drag it the rest of the way. But they were able to get it outside, and back to Westmist. There, Kern first tried to convince the elderly Rikar to touch it, but the former soldier wouldn't have anything to do with such 'dark majiks'. Instead, Kern convinced the middle-aged Bjorn to touch it a couple of times to see if it would work. On the first touch, Bjorn suddenly looked much less wrinkled and grey. Alas, the second did nothing for the now sprier mage. But figuring it would still be of interest to Zoloren, they got in touch with Afflain the Fence, who agreed to contact the archmage to see what he might offer for this item.