Having reunited with Sim but somehow having lost Bud upon re-entering the depths of Elderburg, the party presses forward in its effort to find its way to the temple district, more so since the return journey is promising to become ever more difficult.
Having passed the gate from the wagon inspection station, the group finds itself making its way through a seedier part of the city, traveling through tunnels in which houses have been squished into the sides of the (rather narrow) thoroughfare. By and large, the houses are in bad enough disrepair that it would be quite dangerous to check inside, so the party keeps moving. Paxton thinks to mark the route the party has taken, and Kasglan lends him some chalk with which to do so. When the party encounters a corpse lying in what can only be called an alley at this point (barely wide enough to get a cart through), the cause of death soon becomes apparent when Kasglan triggers a trap that extends several spears from the walls, stabbing him a few times. Fortunately, between his armor and his dwarven fortitude, Kasglan is not severely injured (and rapidly heals himself) and the party learns to identify the type of flagstone that triggers the traps.
With their attention now somewhat drawn to the ground, the party approaches a crossroads, and almost fails to notice four creatures that come swinging down from above on hooked forelimbs and drop down on all four sides of them. Only Kalissa’s keen eye and shouted warning prevents the Society from being caught flat-footed. Their opponents are bipedal and nine to ten feet tall, with beetle-like bodies, vulture-like heads, and, as mentioned, large hooks for forelimbs (hook horrors); they prove to be able to absorb a lot of damage, and deal quite a lot of it too. The party’s first priority is to break the encirclement by focusing on one of the horrors so that they can retreat down that route and then present a united front to the other three monsters. While good in theory, the execution of the plan is hampered by the fact that only two of the party can engage the first horror, which (as it turns out) takes rather a lot of killing. The other three members strive to hold off the other three horrors while this is going on. Aetadius notices the creatures don’t seem to rely on their eyesight and, suspecting they rely on sound, tries blanketing the crossroads with a silence spell; this has the desired effect of impairing the horrors’ attacks but at the price of shutting down the party’s spellcasting and communications, prompting Aetadius to soon drop the spell again.
Paxton and Aetadius (with a little aid from Kasglan’s spiritual weapon) manage to reduce their hook horror to a pile of smoldering (and vile-smelling) chitin. By this time, Kalissa has managed to whittle down her opponent to quite a significant extent, occasionally getting in an attack on Sim’s opponent in the process. Kasglan, preoccupied with administering healing and directing his spiritual weapon elsewhere, has been on the defensive against the last one. With Paxton and Aetadius now available, however, the tide turns decisively, with Aetadius managing to leap/scramble onto the neck of one horror and aiding in its dispatch, then repeating the maneuver with a second.
When all four hook horrors lie dead, the party takes a few minutes to patch up the wounded and get their bearings. There is no ready evidence of the hook horrors’ nest/lair and the disrepair of the nearby buildings precludes a thorough search. The party does, however, notice graffiti on the corners of buildings. While none of them can identify the markings, their best guess is that they are characters of some otherworldy script, drawn from memory by human(oid)s who saw them in dreams or trances, and didn’t really know what they meant. The markings seem to urge the readers to go in the direction the party needs to go, so the adventurers keep an eye out for them as they proceed. The streets are now wider, with the ceiling being out of sight overhead. The air becomes increasingly humid, along with a smell of stale, stagnant water, and the party notices occasional puddles on the ground, apparently unable to evaporate in the humidity.
After less than half a candlemark, another smell penetrates the pervasive fug of stagnant water: that of rotting flesh. Shortly after, the party encounters two human corpses in the street. They appear to have died fighting back to back, and the robes they wear bear similar markings (drawn on with charcoal) to those on the buildings. They are not, curiously, the source of the rotting smell; rather, that seems to come from the half dozen humanoids that appear further down the street. As the humanoids advance, the party notices they have the appearance of ghouls, but nastier (with larger claws and tongues) and giving off a more overpowering stench of decay. Kalissa launches herself into a counter-attack on their line, and the rest of party scrambles in an attempt to prevent her from being surrounded. As each party member comes within ten feet or so of the creatures, they are almost overpowered by the ghastly odor (literally, for ghasts is what the creatures are), and as it turns out, their putrefied claws can inflict paralysis, but Kasglan is able to keep the few people who threaten to succumb in the fight with applications of lesser restoration. Additionally, he manages to channel the power of Lantira to terrify enough of the ghasts to break up their attack, and weapons and magic of the other party members subsequently make fairly short work of the vile creatures. Their lair is found in a nearby building, turning up a small amount of amassed treasure.
Close to exhaustion, and running low on spells, the party falls back a short distance to rest in a place that isn’t too smelly.
Once the party is rested, healed, with their armor and equipment maintained (and repaired as necessary), and their arsenal of spells restocked, the party probes ahead again, noting that the markings and puddles are becoming ever more frequent. Ere long, they emerge onto a wide plaza, with at its center a square stone building some hundred feet on a side. The building appears to have been damaged, patched up, damaged again, and patched up again. Windows have been barricaded and the lower reaches of the walls seem to ooze with a sheen of moisture; above, they are well nigh covered with the mysterious markings. However, enough ancient inscriptions are still visible to determine that this was once a shrine that was home to an oracle who consulted a “spirit of the pool.” The humidity in the plaza is downright oppressive and the building appears to be the source. From within, multiple voices can be faintly heard, chanting or singing in unison.
Having found the double doors that are the only entry point into the building, the Society formulates an entry plan: after Kasglan oils the (predictably rusty) door hinges, he and Kalissa will open them, while Aetadius (standing to one side) creates a minor illusion of the doors remaining closed. Paxton and Sim remain a good ten feet from the doorway to assess the situation within and launch ranged attacks if warranted. As the doors are opened, the interior is revealed to be an open space with half a dozen pillars holding up (what remains of) the roof; in the center is a large circular pool (a good thirty or forty feet in diameter), while on the far side is a dais topped with altar. A dozen robed humans surround most of the pool (inconveniently spread out too far to effectively strike with an area-of-effect attack) while three more ornately robed humans stand on the dais; on the altar lies a restrained middle-aged human male, apparently about to become a sacrifice. Reasonably satisfied that nefarious happenings are afoot, Paxton and Sim launch their attacks, dropping two of the cultists. Recovering from their initial surprise, the remainder and their three leaders surge towards the doorway, but channeled and distracted by a couple of area effect spells from Si, and Aetadius, their right flank rapidly falls to a withering barrage of ranged attacks from Paxton, Sim, and Kasglan, while Kalissa and Aetadius counter-attack the cultists’ left flank, making equally short work of them.
No sooner does the leader of the cult fall, however, or the object of their veneration reveals itself: from the central pool rises a horrifying creature, like a slimy tentacled fish, well over twenty feet in length and with three eyes set above each other over its wide, heavily toothed mouth. The “spirit of the pool” (an aboleth) proves itself amphibious as it flops onto the floor and advances toward the doorway even as it is pelted with arrows and magic, first catching Kalissa with a swipe from its tail and then (though this is not evident to the others at the time) attempting to telepathically enslave her. Mustering every shred of her willpower, bolstered by her warrior’s temperament and training, Kalissa is able to resist the mental onslaught and fiercely retaliates, repeatedly gouging deep wounds into the creature’s side with her sword. The creature turns its efforts to Kasglan instead, and this time it is successful! Suddenly convinced the creature is an avatar of Lantira herself, Kasglan turns against the others in an effort to protect his goddess. Sim was already having trouble when the string on his longbow broke, and as he is readying his backup ranged weapon, a light crossbow, he finds himself struck blind. Kasglan also direct his spiritual weapon at Kalissa, but it ineffectually glances off her armor. Before Kasglan can do any more damage, however, Paxton applies the lessons learned during the earlier fight with the ghosts (see previous entry) and paralyzes Kasglan with his Wand of Binding. In a supreme display of badassery, Sim brings his crossbow to bear on where the target last was, and looses a quarrel that not only strikes the aboleth, but proves to be the killing blow!
With the monster dead, Kasglan’s mental state is restored, and (once Paxton releases him) he is apologetic and sets about fixing up the others’ injuries. Meanwhile, the uninjured members of the group release the prospective sacrificial victim and start to quiz him. The man identifies himself as Morfried, a historian (with a somewhat overinflated notion of his professional prominence) who was hired by the Arcanum to lead a small expedition into Elderburg with the object of turning up anything useful for magical research and the like. However, his expedition was whittled down by successive encounters with various monsters, and after he escaped from the ghasts, Morfried was captured by the aboleth cultists. The strange markings on the buildings, he says, are the cultists’ work, and are symbols intended to compel passersby towards the shrine (at this point, Kalissa rubs the characters she had daubed on her shield off again). He is Not Interested in venturing any further, and only wants to escape the city and get back to civilization.
Upon hearing that Morfried is employed by the Arcanum, Kalissa reckons he is a potential security hazard and advocates killing him (or at least cutting out his tongue and breaking his fingers) lest he alert the Arcanum to the Society’s presence. Kasglan opposes this suggestion, taking the position that Morfried is not a member of the Arcanum but merely an employee (and Lantira knows that the Society has worked for some sketchy people in the past) and that he has done nothing to harm the party, and argues that the chances of a lone unarmored middle-aged academic with few combat skills and no supplies even making it to the surface, let alone out of the badlands, are negligible; and that if the Arcanum had any assets close enough to respond, Morfried wouldn’t have been the only surviving member of his expedition before coming a hair’s breadth from becoming a light snack for an aboleth. Kalissa responds that if Kasglan insists on being a bleeding heart, so be it, but that if the Arcanum does show up, she will not risk her neck to stop them.
Morfried collects a cultist’s robe and scimitar and makes ready to depart, but before the party lets him go, they get him to show them where the cult keeps its treasury, in the basement of a nearby house. As it turns out, a secret door in the basement leads to a spiral staircase, which goes down far enough that by the time they party reaches the bottom and finds the room containing the cult’s loot, they reckon they must be on the third level of the city. And indeed, another door leads into the basement of a building. As the party inventories the cult’s small hoard and plots its next move, the session is brought to a close.