After being healed somewhat, the party resumed searching Lareth’s room. While no additional treasure was found, in his writing desk the group found a stack of letters and personal notes – some unfinished notes written by Lareth, some letters from someone who signed his name “A,” and some ledgers. The ledgers seems to be an accounting of goods and gold stolen during bandit raids, as well as lists of numbers next to races (with some comments) next to indicators such as “fire” “air” “earth” “water” and “greater.” The “Fire” group seemed to have the largest numbers. Dates were included as well. The party deduced this was an accounting of new recruits Lareth had been sending to the Temple – if these ledgers were correct, Lareth had been sending dozens of new recruits per month. Lareth’s correspondence with “A” also included some additional points – “A” was continually asking for more recruits, especially Bugbears, which he seemed to find the perfect combination of cunning and raw brute force. Lareth had written to A about possibly sending his Gnolls “to the fire,” for they and their captain were especially disobedient and untrustworthy. Also found was a draft of a letter where Lareth explained to A that a group of bandits had taken residence above his dungeon – that he’d initially used them as good cover, but that they’d gotten reckless and he was debating sending them “to the fire” before they got caught and potentially revealed his operation as well – he asked “A” for advice (no return letter was found – they assumed this note was never sent).
As the party was debating what this all meant, and how best to return to Hommlet and present this information along with their “proof” of Lt. Paul’s involvement with the Bandits, Valen heard the door at the far end of the hallway being opened, and distant laughter abruptly stop. Valen crept out of the room to listen and have a look – it appeared that a party had discovered the carnage in the long hallway. Valen heard this new group moving slowly toward them with military precision – these were not the simple guards they’d fought before, but something else. He snuck back to Lareth’s room and the party decided to split, half of them moving across the large main room to the guard’s barracks (Gabriel, Valen & Shecky), and half remaining in Lareth’s room with the door closed (Blars, Ark & Schlomo). The hope was to lure the new group into the main room, and then surprise them by attacking from both sides. The new party approached slowly, sending a scout ahead, who spied Gabriel (who had hidden badly). The new group retreated. Gabriel, knowing he ws discovered, decided to use the slaughter which the new group had no doubt found to his advantage, striding out into the large room and using his intimidate skill to call the new group out (playing on the idea that he’d single-handedly slain all of the guards, Lareth and Gremag himself). The new party approached cautiously. Ultimately, Gabriel saw a band of 2 bugbears (one huge and well-armed – clearly the Captain of this hunting party), five humans, and a kobold in sorceror’s robes. The humans and Kobold held back, terrified of Gabriel’s might, but the Bugbear Captain strode into the room, gleefully joining this “champion” in single combat. When Valen started firing arrows into the room, the second bugbear rushed foward, and the kobold wizard cast a darkness spell on the entire room. With Gabriel, Shecky and Valen unable to see anything, the combat quickly turned bad for Gabriel. The door to Lareth’s room flew open and Schlomo rushed to join the fight. Shecky used a light spell to counter the darkness, and the balance of the battle became more even. Eventually this raiding party was destroyed, but not before Gabriel was rendered unconscious, and Schlomo and Shecky took a huge amount of damage. After the battle, the party discovered that this had been a raiding party coming back with spoils – gold, fine cloth, and a magical circlet Shecky pocketed.
Exhausted and out of spells, the party decided to high-tail it out of the dungeon. The followed Lareth’s entrance tunnel, which led to a cave near the road where the party had originally left their horses, three days prior (the horses were gone). The party camped in the woods, healed, and rested. The next morning they set out on foot to Hommlet (2 days’ walk away) they walked all day and camped in the forest as darkness approached.
The party was awakened in the night by the sound of approaching hoofbeats. Ark and Valen scouted to the road, and saw Mayor Grondarian approaching with a contingent of town guards. Gabriel and Schlomo joined the scouts, while Blars and Shecky hung back at camp. As they got closer, the party could see Elmo riding in back, and the halfling Small Paul riding up front near Grondarian. They also saw that the other guards were very young, save one who they recognized as Hommlet’s blacksmith. The four party members near the road stepped out to greet Grondarian, who instantly declared them under arrest for the supposed murder of Lt. Paul and the bulk of his town guards, who had not been seen since the party left Hommlet five days prior. The party agreed, knowing they could exonerate themselves with the evidence once they reached town. However, the confrontation turned slightly violent, and, when asked about Shecky and Blars, Gabriel lied and said they were two miles back toward the Moathouse. Lt. Paul and two others rode off after them, and the other four were hauled onto horses with the guards, bound and stripped of all weapons and gear (but still wearing armor). Blars and Shecky watched from the bushes as they rode away.
Grondarian and the guards rode through the night. During the ride, Elmo (who had put Gabriel on his horse) quietly got the story of what had happened from Gabriel. He cautioned Gabriel that, whatever happened in town, the party should not reveal anything about Lareth or the dungeons below the moathouse. It was during this conversation and the talk about proving Lt. Paul was the bandit leader that Gabriel realized an important oversight: all of the evidence proving their claims was with Blars, back at the camp.
Shecky and Blars watched the rest of their party being ridden away in shackles. They geared-up and decided to walk after them, and make a plan about what to do when they got to Hommlet while on the road.
Grondarian and the prisoners arrived in Hommlet in the late morning. The party were immediately placed in a small cell, locked and guarded by two nervous, newly conscripted town guards. Gabriel had just enough time to tell the whole group to be honest about the events with the bandits but say nothing about Lareth or what occurred in the dungeons below the moathouse, before Grondarian returned with Elmo. He ordered Elmo to grab Schlomo for interrogation. One by one, the party were interrogated – Schlomo telling a wild, incoherent story about bandits and Temple minions, Ark refusing to talk, Valen telling basically the truth (including some things about the dungeons) and Gabriel matching Valen’s story, except leaving out the dungeons. Schlomo and Ark were roughed-up during their interrogations (fortunately, it was by Elmo, who pulled his punches).
On the road, Shecky and Blars, who’d decided to break their companions out of jail when they arrived at town, hid along the side of the road as Small Paul and his group thundered angrily back toward town, empty-handed.
Back at the jail, Grondarian threw the party back into the cell together. As he did so, Small Paul arrived, angrily shouting that he’d been lied-to. Grondarian decided to convene a meeting of the city council, after Paul attempted to beat the prisoners, to get to the bottom of this garbled information. After they’d gone, Elmo brught them a crude meal, along with a note saying they should stay put until midnight. He’d unlock the door. They should meet just inside the treeline nearest the jail. And they were NOT to kill anyone. Ark loosed all four of them from their bonds so they’d be ready for trouble, and they waited.
Blars and Shecky arrived near town well after dark, a couple of hours before midnight. They saw the town was being heavily patrolled by pairs of guards carrying lanterns, none of whom looked familiar. They worked their way around the treeline to the area closest to the jail. As they contemplated their plan, Elmo appeared from the direction of the jail. He handed them off to the Druid Jaroo, who appeared out of nowhere with his huge black bear companion. With little fuss, the bewildered pair was led to the Druid’s grove and told to wait for their friends to arrive.
Back at the jail, the party waited until midnight and tested the door, which they found unlocked. They quietly subdued the only guard and retrieved their gear, again subduing (not killing) the guard they found in that room. They then escaped, heading for the treeline. When they arrived in the treeline, Elmo took them to the Druid’s grove, where they were united with the rest of the party, and joined by Jaroo, Druid of the Grove, and Canon Terjon, leader of the local Church of Cuthbert.
Elmo introduced the three of them as the “Small Council” – while the town council carried out the regular business of Hommlet, the small council was a secret group, sent by the Duke of Verbobonc (acting on behalf of the Kingdom of Furyondy) [Elmo], the Horned Society [Jaroo] and the Church of Cuthbert [Terjon] to monitor the area for a possible re-surgence of the activities of the Temple of Elemental Evil. The party conveyed its story in great detail, showing also the proof (in the form of the lockboxes, cloaks emblazoned with the fiery Elemental Eye, silver keys and letters from Lareth’s desk). The small council was very troubled by all of this. They retreated into Jaroo’s small hut to discuss. After a few minutes, they emerged. Elmo said he’d take the keys and lockboxes back to the Mayor and try to persuade the town council of the truth of the party’s story, in his alter-ego’s simple way. Terjon urged teh party to accompany him and take secret refuge in the oddly large and fortified Church of Cuthbert while they awaited further word from Elmo and the council, as well as the Small Counsil’s leaders (who were to be sent messages via raven). The party agreed, and accompanied Terjon back to the church, where they were given small but comfortable rooms, and use of the Church’s small library to research the Temple.
The party slept the night in the church, awaking the next morning to a day of studying and rest. Canon Terjon showed them around the keep, to the library, church proper, private prayer halls, the training grounds at the center of the keep, kitchens, smithy and your sleeping quarters. The church was small, but well appointed. Cuthbert is a god of voracious appetites – there is food and drink aplenty – and a god of war – all his priests train daily and the armory and smithy are well-stocked. You all rest, eat, read and discuss in the library, learning much about the temple and its history. Elmo arrived to say that the town council had received the proof of Lt. Paul’s banditry, but Grondarian and Small Paul were not wholly convinced. They planned on riding out to the moathouse themselves (after several more days of discussion) to try to get proof of the party’s story. Terjon planned on sending a contingent of clerics and masons immediately to wall-up the dungeons and prevent them from examination by panicky townspeople. Elmo resolved to return the next morning with more information.
The party slept an uneasy night, to be wakened the next morning and asked to join Canon Terjon for breakfast. When they arrived, Terjon was accompanied by Jaroo and Elmo. Elmo had the bad news that Grondarian had decided to send out a search party after the party, and list them as being wanted men with nearby towns and villages. More importantly, though, the Small Council had a request of the party. On behalf of their various benefactors, they wanted the party to travel to Nulb, a seedy town to the East, and then on to the Temple. The task – investigate the temple – find out what manner of evil stirs there, who it was Lareth was recruiting for. If the party can can – stop them, by whatever means. If the party cannot stop them, then report back. In return, after the deed was done, the Duke of Verbobonc, on authority of the King of Furyondy, would make all of them Knights, including a small grant of land and all the honors knighthood conveyed. The three left the party to consider, saying they’d need an answer by noon the following day. After a short discussion, the party separated to think on it, heading to various points in the church grounds.