This episode unnerved the party so much regarding retrieving the skull that they decided to head out of town for a bit, finally deciding on hiring themselves out as caravan escorts, again contracted through Drask of the Trade Syndicate and his caravan master, Greta.
They set forth as follows:
- Hankella, heart-broken and hirsute warrior
- Brains, a suspicious (in both senses) magic-user, along with his hired help - Olga, Shield-maiden; Ursula, Bow-maiden; and Werner, Carrier-boy and Party-insulter
- Forest Woodtwig, an elf, who, unbeknownst to the other party members, has actually been raised by orcs wearing pointy ears who, for their own amusement, gave Forest erroneous information regarding what it means to be an elf, which would explain why he talks about cannibalism so much
- Olin, who is quite happy that both the elf and the magic-user can both cast sleep - for slitting the throats of sleeping people is Totally His Thing
On their way North, they survived a nighttime attack by starving wolves, were warned about a castle by a prickish knight, stayed at said castle anyway and had a fine time, including talking with the court mage (one of four people in the whole place) who seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with the so-called "cursed mountain" to the East and was willing to pay good coin for anything unearthed from the ancient death-cult headquarters on said mountain (they might have to check that out on the way back, the party said). On their way out they ran into some pilgrims of the Sun God, heading south for some sort of festival.
A day's travel north from the castle and things got interesting. First of all, they were attacked by a small group of giant rattlesnakes. Second of all, Olga died. Third of all, Hankella should have died, except that when she appeared to be on the brink of death from rattlesnake venom, Forest remembered that he had that mysterious necklace from the goblin shaman and put it on her. Which seemed to put her into some sort of coma, which is better than dead. A horse and rider were sent back towards the Sun God pilgrims and returned that night with a priest capable of removing the poison from Hankella's body, although he was visibly disturbed by the necklace. Forest and Olin volunteered to escort the priest back to his group and the latter, perhaps unwisely, attempted to backstab the priest (as he explained, the 200gp "donation" for removing the poison meant that he had at least 200 gold on him). He was held personed for his troubles and then summarily cursed such that he cannot attack Lawful creatures until he properly atones (Forest assured the priest that there would be additional punishments for the "brigand in our midst" -- a handy bit of quick thinking given an earlier conversation upon his arrival).
(Hankella was at this point made into the thrall of a vampire who had made the necklace out of a portion of his life-essence -- he needs somebody's help to unseal his tomb, which is contained within the Halls of the Red Queen.)
Continuing North, the party came across a small village. Invited to dinner at the headman's house, they discovered that there was some tension between the villagers, a young cleric named Desmond who was earning his apprenticeship in the area and the Sun God pilgrims that had just passed through town. Before things came to a head, a distraught villager broke into the hall wailing that an evil spirit had come out of the woods and taken his daughter. Quickly downing a "strength draught" offered to them by the headman (only Hankella and Brains actually drank it, with the others feigning to do so), the party picked up their weapons and headed into the moonlit woods.
Hearing a scream from an upcoming clearing, the party burst into it to the horrible sight of a twisted half-goat, half-man creature coupling with the kidnapped girl. Engaging the creature in combat, the party was then also ambushed from behind by a group of the headman's guards, seemingly intent on taking the party alive. A quick Sleep spell dealt with the treacherous villagers; unfortunately, disaster then struck as the demon spirit delivered a crunching headbutt that folded Hankella's torso in half and the party was stunned as she fell dead to the ground and the creature rushed off into the night.
After dispatching the fallen villagers (and discovering that the hooded figure in the rear of the group was the girl's father), the party tracked the goal spirit to its lair in the ancient ruins on the other side of the clearing. A choice use of the Big d30 by Olin on a damage roll left the goat-being dead in a phantasmagorical display based on the doctor's account from The Great God Pan and the party could relax for approximately 5 seconds before releasing that the floor of the chamber in which this creature had fled was almost entirely covered in silver coins.
A clinking dash through the woods later, the party rejoined the caravan and got the hell out of dodge. The next day, a group of 20-strong brigands would have been very happy to see all the silver they would have taken possession of if both spellcasters hadn't re-memorized sleep, leaving all except 3 highwaymen asleep (well, before their throats were cut, at least) at the side of the road. The party is now only a day-and-a-half from their destination and we take our leave from them as they debate trying to track down the brigand's presumed lair.