Darnorth, Kern and Bjorn returned from Stonehell with their tales of easy adventure and treasure. This got Riley, Gurruk and Erijay interested in a return to their old monster stomping grounds. Darnorth agreed to go with them, while Kern and Bjorn choose to stay in Westmist. First, however, all were surprised when a delegation arrived from the Temple of the Three Virtues. They bore an invitation from Liphanes the Highest Virtue, summoning Riley to the temple to attend a ceremony of thanksgiving for the destruction of the Helix of Yg, recently recovered by the party and turned over to the church by Riley. Riley, accompanied by Erijay and Darnorth, arrived at the temple to find the main hall of worship bedecked in ecclesiastical finery and with the Highest Virtue waiting in the centre. The fat churchman read a proclamation stating that the Virtuous Augustus of Kellowai had approved award of the title of “Mighty Arm of the Faith” to Riley in reward for his services to the church. He was presented with a massive gold medal/holy symbol, and was informed his new title entitled him to lodging at any temple of the church and guaranteed an audience with the ranking churchman in any temple on request. And with a final burst of hymn and praise, the new “Mighty Arm” and his companions were sent on their way.
And that way led them today back to Stonehell , to search for the still elusive access to the fifth level where Duncal, the heir of Westmist, was supposedly located. An uneventful passage through the upper works led them back to the fourth level, where they headed for unexplored area to the south and east. They first encountered a room containing the statue of a young boy in a classical pose. Closer examination showed it was been damaged by a sword, axe or other blade, but was otherwise non-descript. Looking for hidden treasure, Erijay and Darnorth pushed it aside. When Darnorth touched the statue, however, he a suddenly felt younger. Erijay noted the dwarf had lost a few wrinkles around the eyes and grey whiskers in his beard. Alas, his youth was the only thing found, as nothing was hidden below the statue.
Moving on, they next encountered a door with a finely written sign. In several languages (all of which Darnorth could read thanks to his helm) was written: “DO NOT OPEN!”. The dwarf squirmed in indecision, unsure if the warning should be taken at face value, or if he should take a chance in the hope there were piles of gold on the other side. Finally deciding to take a chance, the rest of the party headed back down the hall to take cover just around a corner, while Darnorth slowing unlatched and opened the door. Once opened far enough, he did see gold. In the form of huge golden panther, which leap at the dwarf. In a matter of seconds, Darnorth was mauled so badly he fell unconscious to the floor, blood pouring from multiple deep wounds. Erijay dashed off her lightning bolt, melting a patch of the amber cat before it raced down the hallway and leap on her. Erijay tried but failed to cast spell after spell as the cat raked her with its claws. She did succeed in casting a trio of magic missiles, and join Riley and Gurruk in pounding the thing to pieces. Close examination (after binding the dwarf’s wounds) revealed the cat was made of amber, which now lay in scattered chunks on the floor. Hauling the dwarf behind them, Erijay searched the cat's room for treasure and/or secret doors, while Riley and Gurruk kept watch. Which was good, for while Erijay searched, the sound of heavy steps and breathing came down the hall. Leaving the door open just a crack, Riley and Gurruk saw a massive cave bear approach, sniffing after the smell of dwarven blood. Reaching the door, it rose on its back paws to a full 15’ high and tried to push open the door. But Riley and Gurruk slammed it shut, and after some more sniffing around, the bear moved on. While this was happening, Erijay continued to search but unfortunately found nothing. Once certain the bear was gone, the surviving trio hoisted the unconscious dwarf and headed out of the dungeon and back to Westmist. Where Darnorth was dropped in bed to be nursed back to health.
While the dwarf recovered from his wounds, there was other excitement in town. The March Baron arrived back in town for the first time in months, leading his victorious troops. Word spread through Westmist that there would be a proclamation the town square, which Riley and Erijay hurried to attend. There, standing on a hastily built platform, stood Lord Merdwyn, joined by Jax and backed by his troops. To the gathered crowd, the March Baron announced that he was taking, by right of conquest, the title of Count Palatine of the Overmarch. He was also rebuilding the town of Nasper to serve as seat of the County, and issued a call (backed by a substantial bounty) for settlers to join him in the new lands, to reclaim the Untamed Lands for human civilization. He would be maintaining his title as March Baron of Westmist, and the fealty he owed to the King of Kellowai for that title. He would, however, be moving his primary residence to Nasper to oversee development of his new realm, and so confirmed the appointment of Jax as the March Baron’s seneschal in Westmist. He then dispersed the crowd, included Erijay and Riley who headed back to the house. They were just arriving when they heard the sounds behind them, and turned to see the March Baron and a number of his men headed their way. The March Baron greeted them politely, and referred back to the party's previous services to him and the fact that he had promised a reward when he was better able to pay. Now that time had come, and a half dozen of his men dropped a huge chest in front of their door. And with a few final words of thanks, Lord Merdwyn left. Popping open the chest, Erijay and Riley found it filled with gold coins (5000gp to be exact). Payday at last.
After waiting another week for Darnorth to recover, the group headed back to continue exploring from where they left off. Passing through a little amber debris from the cat (although most was now gone), they headed south this time. Here they found a room, walls covered (ironically) in bas reliefs of dwarven funeral processions. A dozen bare stone briers lined the walls and a carving of the dwarven Tree of Life lay on the floor in the centre. Along one wall lay a 12' tall stepladder. Thinking it might be there for a reason, Darnorth floated up to the ceiling to look, but saw nothing of interest. Several corridors exited the room, and from the one to the south came the glow of a fire. Heading to investigate, Erijay stepped into a room with a pit filled with a huge bonfire. Scattered about were piles of ashes. As she approached closer, out of the fire leapt four fiery canine forms that rushed to block her progress. The rest of the party came up and a fierce melee ensued. The hounds alternated biting and breathy fiery breath, Darnorth taking the brunt of the fiery breath. A combination of magic, melee and missile took out three of the beasts, which collapsed into piles of warm ash as they died. The fourth tried to escape by leaping over the elf and the dwarf, but Darnorth drove his blade into its belly as it passed overhead, resulting in a shower of warm ash all over the dwarf.
Pausing briefly to sift through the ashes (and recover a few gems), the party passed through another room, then through a door into along hallway. After a short while, a 20' wide hallway opened on the left. Peaking down here, the party could see light and head the sound of clinking and clattering. Cautiously moving forward, they entered an octagonal room , set for a formal dinner. Setting out the silver ware was a man with a withered, cadaverous look, dressed in antique and shabby finery. "Oh" he said in a finally cultured accent; "I wasn't expecting extra guests for dinner. Have you an invitation?" When told they didn't he replied "well, that's good, as you are by no means dressed for an evening of fine food and conversation". Darnorth cautiously asked what was on the menu, and the man read a gruesome mix of dishes made of ogre, human and throghrin from the menu. The last served with a fine béarnaise sauce. He then shooed the part away, telling them to watch for "Fluffy" and his friends on the way out.
The party choose to meekly leave at this point, figuring they could come back at another time when better prepared for fine dining. Heading in the opposite direction, they first found a chamber with a wide set of stairs leading down. Finally access to the firth level! While Darnorth suggested going down to 'scout around', the others convinced him that a search of the rest of this area might be a better idea. Looping back around, they first found a machinery room full of chains, pulleys, counterweights and gears. It looked very much like the elevator machinery they'd found on the second level. But with no elevator in sight, they moved on and entered a natural cavern system. Right at the entrance was a human skeleton, chained upright to a stalagmite. In its hands it held a piece of slate on which was written in chalk "The Gentlemen invite to dinner. Today's special: minotaur, warlock and throghrin with lentils". Riley took this, figuring it could it could be their invitation later on. Passing deeper into the caverns, they found what appeared to be the main entrance to the Gentlemen's abode. Further on they encountered a room with walls covered in a humanoid bones, all arranged in peculiar patterns. They next surprised a quartet of ogres in a room full of refuse. A standoff ensued, but no one was interested in fighting just now. Darnorth questioned the ogres, wondering if they knew Rufus and Tusk. The four told the dwarf where to go and how to get ther. And then warned the whole party off, telling then they continued north at their peril. Not interested in pushing their luck with the ogres right now, the party indeed headed in the opposite direction. In a small side cavern they saw a strange glow like a continual light. Moving in to investigate, Darnorth was surprised by a spiderlike creature that dropped onto him from the ceiling. It was dealt with swiftly, and the glow was found to come from a plain iron spike on the floor. Also found in the room, stuffed in a crevasse at the back, was the long dead skeleton of an adventurer. It proved to have nothing of interest, so the party first skirted a room filled with an eerie whistling sound, before circling back to the stairs from the level above. Figuring they had seen enough for one excursion, they headed up the stairs, out of the dungeon and back to Westmist.