(Missing this session: Aetadius. No rationale cooked up for his absence.)
The party emerges from the basement to find the rest of the building above it collapsed. They are once again in a residential neighborhood, with a number of mostly intact buildings. As they look about for indications in which directions to go, Paxton notes a strange marking on a wall at an intersection, while Kalissa and Bud find an intact tavern on another corner of the same junction. The party decides to investigate the tavern, which seems to have been abandoned calmly, as if the staff left after closing without cleaning up first, as there are tankards on the tables and dishes piled up for cleaning. Their search is interrupted when what seemed to be a leather cloak on the coat rack takes flight; as it unfurls, a face with a tooth-filled mouth becomes visible and a barbed tail emerges. The creature (a cloaker) attacks Bud and wraps itself around him. The other party members soon find that it is impossible to hurt the creature without also hurting Bud, but no alternative suggests itself, so Kasglan attempts to keep healing Bud’s injuries (taking a few slashes from the cloaker’s tail in the process) while the others pour on the attacks. After taking several hits, the cloaker releases Bud and attempts to attach itself to Kalissa instead, but fails to do so. The party’s relief is short-lived when the cloaker then seems to divide into four creatures, each the same size as the original, but the relief returns when the “offspring” prove to be illusory copies that dissipate when struck. After the first illusion dissipates, Paxton casts a scorching ray at the three remaining ones, thereby eliminating the remaining decoys, and the actual creature is shredded not long thereafter.
A search of the hostelry turns up some coin, a couple of potions, and several bottles of what appears to be brandy made from mushrooms. After a brief rest, the group hits the street again, in search of a way down to the next level.
Their exploration leads them into a ruined part of town, where wooden buildings appear to have burned or rotted away into fields of rubble. The dankness of the air causes breathing trouble for a few party members, but Kasglan is able to handle this with divinely granted magic. However, as he is finishing tending to Bud (the last person to remain affected), the party is ambushed by seven giant spiders. A couple of the spiders spit webs at the party, immobilizing half of them, and as the others scuttle forward to sink their venomous palps into the adventurers’ flesh, Paxton decides that extreme measures are called for and drops a fireball into the middle of the party, scorching friend and foe alike, but also burning away the binding webs. While nobody is incapacitated outright, most are weakened to some extent, and when Kasglan is bitten by one spider, the injury is more than he can take and he collapses. Bud uses his own healing magic to bring Kasglan back in the fight, while Kalissa quaffs a Potion of Speed to boost the rate of her damage-dealing abilities. As the spiders were, for the most part, also badly hurt by the fireball, they start falling rapidly to her sword as well as Sim’s arrows, and the party prevails. In the process, Bud finally gains sufficient familiarity with the arachnids to be able to take their form, which he proceeds to do during much of the following day.
With everybody hurting to some degree, the party takes a long rest nearby to recover their strength before moving on.
Before long, they come across the site of a fight, and one that appears to have occurred fairly recently. The cave walls show scorch marks, most likely from fire spells, and also fresh gouges from axes. In addition, there is the corpse of a minotaur, evidently killed by fire magic but in state of rigor mortis, indicating that battle most likely occurred anywhere between six candlemarks to a few days previously. Sim finds tracks leading away from the scene, and the party follows these into a more built-up neighborhood before they peter out. While Paxton notices another mark on a building identical to the one he observed before (and neither he nor others in party are able to figure out), the party hears a voice calling to them, asking whether they’re tracking the minotaurs.
A female dwarf emerges from the shadows of a building, clad in dark red wizard’s robes bearing the mark of the Arcanum. She continues her exposition about the minotaurs, stating there were three others, but that they managed to escape. The party is immediately on edge to run into an Arcanum wizard, but each member understands that if this woman was able to kill one minotaur and drive three more to flight single-handedly, she is a force to be reckoned with, and she may well have had enough time since that fight to replenish her spells. There follows an extremely tense conversation, in which the party members try to divulge as little information as possible while not saying or doing anything that might provoke a fight. The dwarven woman identifies herself as Issilda, and is perceptive enough to recognize Kalissa’s coat of arms as being of House Tolvok, Sim as being a Lesser, and Paxton as being a spellcaster. She quizzes the party as to their purpose in Elderburg, and receives non-committal answers about treasure-hunting. She also needles the party about their Lesser being inadequately disciplined (Sim manages to walk a fine line between maintaining his dignity without being what a supremacist might consider insolent), tries to manipulate Kasglan into revealing the party’s purpose in Elderburg (which he manages to answer to her apparent satisfaction by saying they’re looking for historical artifacts without revealing specifics), and demands to see Paxton’s Arcanum-issued spellcasting license (he ultimately relents, and fortunately she is convinced by the forgery). Finally, Issilda takes her leave, but when she does, two armored figures who had previously remained motionless detach themselves from the shadows of the same building to follow her. While the party cannot ascertain precisely what they are, it is evident to them that the escorts are magically animated. After the trio passes beyond earshot, Kalissa reiterates her belief that it was a mistake to not permanently silence Morfried. Kasglan, for his part, remains skeptical that Issilda and Morfried were even aware of each other’s presence, much less collaborating (a wizard with two armored constructs supposedly capable of besting four minotaurs should surely have been able to see off the cultists who captured Morfried) but decides not to press the issue, and remains silent.
Heading in the opposite direction from the way Issilda went, the party find themselves in a cul-de-sac ending at a large stone building that is for the most part still intact. From the exterior, it looks like it was a guild hall, and the party decides that they may as well search it while they’re here. Upon entering the building, they find it is large enough that it might actually have housed multiple guilds, though there is little of interest on the “ground” floor. One stairway into a basement level, however, leads to what appears to have been a waiting room lined with benches and paintings on the walls. As Sim steps through the doorway into the waiting room, he drops out of sight into a pit masked by an illusion, taking severe damage in the fall (including three incapacitated limbs). Bud assumes spider form and retrieves him, and while Kasglan patches Sim up again, the others search the pit, which contains corpses of varying antiquity (up to several decades old), and dig up a variety of coins and a locked tome that appears to be magical. The party also collects the paintings, which despite their general kitschiness are probably worth some money.
After the return to the “ground” floor and resume their sweep, the party hears noises below their feet. A quick scan of the area reveals a downward shaft, about 10 feet deep, leading to a door. Kalissa and Kasglan lower themselves by rope to investigate, and upon opening the door little by little to peer into whatever lies beyond, discover a large chamber containing three nervous minotaurs, all armed with greataxes. One of them notices the activity, charges to the door and literally rips it off its hinges, and the fight is on. The minotaur goes for Kalissa, focusing on offense at the expense of defense, but not only does it fail to wound her, it leaves itself open to Kalissa and Kasglan’s counter-attacks. The minotaur’s size proves a liability as the doorway is too narrow for its companions to join in, and as Sim and Paxton drop down behind Kalissa and Kasglan and add their attacks, it is quickly dispatched. This, however, leaves the way clear for one of the other two to carry out an oblique charge on the doorway, and it manages to catch Kasglan with its horns and toss him into the open, where he is set upon by both remaining minotaurs. Things look extremely hairy for a moment, as Kasglan has been quite badly hurt and seems very vulnerable, but the minotaurs prove themselves incapable of penetrating his armor any further, and he quickly manages to patch himself up with a healing word and start fighting back. With both minotaurs focused on him, the rest of the party are able to pour on the attacks, and first one, then the last of the creatures is reduced to messy piles of ineptly cooked and carved roast beast.
A search of the corpses turns up a fair amount of coinage, along with a piece of charcoal that matches that used to make the strange markings Paxton has been noticing. As the party catches their breath, Paxton decides to take a look at the locked book they’ve found. The only external marking is an image of a winged boot on the front cover. The lock is not impressive and yields easily to Paxton’s dagger. Perusing the pages, he rapidly concludes that this is a Manual of Quickness of Action; if certain conditions are met, it will magically bestow a permanent increase in dexterity upon its reader, whereupon it will revert to a mundane book for a hundred years. The party is unanimous that it will be most beneficial if Sim reads it, so he is assigned some bedtime reading for the next few days.
As the party prepares to turn their attention to the set of double doors leading out of another wall of the chamber, the session is brought to a close.