The second half of the party, Arck, Schlomo and Shecky, three adventurers from the area of the Wild Coast looking for work, heard about Hommlet’s recent bandit troubles and were heading to that small village on a direct route through the wilderness. As they picked their way through a darkened forest near Hommlet just before setting camp for the night, they stumbled across another party of three humanoids (two smallish and one very large, broad shouldered one) wearing dark cloaks and carrying weapons coming from the vicinity of the town. They followed this group at a distance through the forest until morning, when the three odd-sized humanoids stopped at the edge of a clearing. The two smaller ones (goblins) began to prepare ranged weapons, while the larger set off along the treeline.
While the huge, heavily armed and armored Schlomo waited, Shecky crept toward the two smaller figures to get a better look, and Arck stealthily stalked after the big guy.
Gabriel, unaware of the activity 50 yards or so away in the treeline, gave what healing he had left to Blars and Valen. All three were now conscious (barely) and leaning outside the temple doors. Valen’s sharp elven ears heard the distinct sound of a bow being drawn just before he was shot in the leg by and rendered once again unconscious. Shecky and Schlomo lept on the goblins while Blars and Gabriel struggled to protect themselves and keep Valen alive.
Meanwhile, Arck made a less than stealthy move and found himself in combat with the big humanoid, who turned out to be a Bugbear.
Shecky and Schlomo (with the eventual help of Gabriel and the barely-healed Valen) killed the two goblins. The group went after Arck and the bugbear, and managed to help destroy the creature and save Arck from a pit of quicksand. The three “bad guys” were all dressed in black leathers and black cloaks adorned with the fiery eye symbol, which Arck and Blars working together identified as (possibly) a demonic symbol related to the old temple of elemental evil. They also carried a map to the temple and drawings of the evil artifacts within.
Having bonded over combat, the 6-member party hatched a plan to retrieve their loot from the temple using a distraction at the main doors, and Shecky as a gnomish claw machine game (with Valen operating) to retrieve the sacks of treasure through the broken temple ceiling. Despite a barely avoided encounter with a slithery silver creature, all went as planned and the group headed back toward town hauling huge piles of treasure. They left the joined sword/unholy symbol behind.
Upon reaching the edge of town the next morning, the party found that the citizens of Hommlet were streaming toward the inn at the center of town. Gabriel, Arck and Shecky blended into the crowd and headed toward the inn, while the rest of the party headed to the moneychanger to change the bags of loot into more portable gems. The exchange with the moneychanger went smoothly (save his large fee).
At the inn, guard Lt. Paul was calming a crowd of alarmed villagers. Apparently bandits had struck a caravan again while the party was at the temple, and the Iversson farm has been burned down in the night – also assumed to be the work of emboldened bandits. A curfew was created and villagers from the outskirts of town were asked to move to the inn temporarily so the town guard could protect them. As the crowd dispersed, Gabriel and Arck, who were unfamiliar to Paul and clothed in soiled and bloody garments, were arrested on suspicion of banditry, while Shecky’s small size allowed him to escape to warn the others.
At the jail, Gabriel’s great powers of persuasion, combined with testimony from Jessup, convinced Paul that the party were not bandits but had been hunting them. Gabriel and Arck were released, and at dinner that evening the town elders asked the party to take on the task of hunting the bandits. The party accepted.
After equipping themselves at a great discount at Jessup’s mercantile (including Arck buying a horse and Valen equipping himself with an exquisite composite longbow), the party retired for the night. Suspicious and wanting to get a jump on investigations, Arck and Valen snuck out after curfew. They stealthily avoided the lantern-bearing night watch patrols, and observed Lt. Paul and two other guards (without lanterns), covered in dark cloaks, leave town on horseback under the cover of darkness. They also checked-out the residence of Jessup, who appeared to be at home as expected, before sneaking back to the inn.
In the morning, the party asked to be shown the burnt-down Iversson farm. Since Lt. Paul was out on duty, the mayor/inkeeper introduced them to the guard’s human bowman/sniper, Jon Straw, who agreed to take them to the farm to investigate.