The battle rages on in the depths of the ziggurat and the Heroes continue to put on a fantastic display of tactics and brute force; showing that despite their many differences they have gelled as a cohesive unit within their short time together.
Black Santos and Taran each make quick work of another cultist as the Ranger leaves the battlefield to search for something along one of the walls of the ziggurat. While Jeric, who dug into his growing bag of tricks (and is now hovering over the battlefield out of reach of pointy things), is able to successfully dissipate one of the healing orbs by attacking it with his chain. So, they can be destroyed! During this time, Niven (with his magical throwing knife) and Alexander (via turning himself into the Creature from the Black Lagoon) expand out of their support roles and take to the offensive as well.
Finding and pocketing what he was searching for, the Ranger takes out both his blades and makes his way directly to the Cultists’ hobgoblin leader, Grimshanks …and once upon him proceeds to throw both of his swords one after another onto the floor. Strange tactics.
Before several more cultists turn on black Santos he grabs his holy symbol and calls to the Light in what should surely be a display of righteous fury. But instead some witness the Cleric’s expression of shock and dismay as nothing happens.
The Blood Golem (previously held in check due to one of Alexander’s grease spells) finally gets the necessary balance and traction to move and comes down hard on Taran.
Now injured and looking up at a giant golem, Taran (shamefully?) retreats from his current engagement and (maybe honorably?) joins black Santos in an effort to defend him as the Cleric is also tangling with several cultists.
Before the tide of the battle can completely turn, Jeric is able to destroy two more healing orbs. The rest of the group (with black Santos’ black lion, Blackie) start raining death blows that finish off the remaining cultists while the Ranger retrieves his weapons and slays Grimshanks in a fury of strikes.
The hope this would extinguish the threat of the golem is for naught. But what looked like an insurmountable task is made easy thanks to another grease spell. The full force of the Heroes’ strikes results in an explosion of bloody golem bits.
The one remaining cultist left alive, still trapped in the Wizards’ web, can now be questioned. But of course, he is instead brutally executed by Taran (seemingly an out-of-character moment) and Sigfried (we expect nothing less at this point).
Catching their breath, the group looks around and discover Ralg and Niven are missing. Presumed to have made their way to the bottom floor of the ziggurat, the group makes haste for the stairway. But Niven intercepts them on the stairs and explains that Ralg is… “Well, he’s in a bit of a pickle.” He is being chased by another golem down below.
The party makes their way down to the bottom floor of the ziggurat. Prisoners in individual cages line the walls. Beyond them is an Iron Golem with an about-to-be-splattered Ralg in its clutches. Luckily, Niven remembers he has the Golem Rod and successfully sends a command that halts its would-be deathblow. This gives the Ranger an opportunity to interrogate Ralg (again) and through this the group finds out Sigfried has the Divine Augmenter in his possession(!)
With the golem seemingly under Niven’s complete control, the party turns their attention to the prisoners. The Ranger discovers that their missing halfling companion, Tarbold Tallbottom, is in one of the cages. However he’s… different. He’s covered in runes and pentagrams and far too corrupted to be brought back into society. Black Santos is outwardly perturbed about the Divine Augmenter being in the Rangers’ possession. Sigfried, annoyed with the hovering Cleric, throws the Augmenter down the hall for him to go and fetch. Now seemingly alone with the creature that was once Tarbold, the Ranger tries to interrogate him but is unsuccessful at getting the information he seeks. Sigfried was not alone with the halfling, however. The approaching Cleric seems to overhear enough from the Ranger’s whispers to make black Santos believe Sigfried is possibly aligned with Lord Cathist! It only takes a few moments more for the prisoners to be freed via Niven’s golem and Tarbold to be mercifully laid to rest.
Before the group and the prisoners make their leave, a tender scene is shared between a shattered female prisoner and the compassionate Niven. The Bard is able to coax the will to live back into her and have her join the other prisoners. The party learns in this exchange about prisoner pens on the top floor and the decision is made to investigate and rescue anyone alive up there before leaving.
Sigfried and Alexander sneak away during the prisoner rescue and the rest of the group soon meet up with them when they head to the floor above. The two of them went ahead and picked clean all the dead bodies of anything valuable, saving everyone else the trouble. They do share with the group two documents they found on Grimshanks’ body. One is a map to a dig site outside of Valencia. Jeric states that he recognizes the area and, furthermore, he’s been there. He’s crossed a man, a halfling, named Karnic there. The group learns Karnic is the leader of the Black Shepherds; a group splintered off of the Valencian thieves guild known as the Shattered Sigil. The other document is a written account of plans for the cult. It speaks of the need for the Staff of Ancients so they can complete their Master’s orders. It also mentions how “Mearis” infiltrated the dig site. Finally, it references waiting for Mearis’ signal before sending the ghasts to overtake them. Grimshanks’ name is also revealed in the crudely written document.
Continuing their way up, the group discovers countless ghasts locked behind a portcullis on the top floor. And with only undead ghasts there, the group make their way back to the exit door and the fresh air that awaits on the other side. Using the Stone Golem they previously overcame to lift the heavy door, the group is finally able to make it outside. With a command from Niven, "Destroy this building,” the golem turns and sets upon its final task. Moments later, like a cascading waterfall the ziggurat starts collapsing in upon itself.
As the dust settles (literally) vile words are exchanged between Sigfried and the Cleric; the latter accusing the former, in front of the rest of the group, of conspiring with Lord Cathist. Accusations and insults fly freely and things quickly escalate. Before it comes to blows, Jeric puts down his popcorn and gets between them. The group, their ward of former prisoners and a cloud of quiet tension all make their way back to Valencia.
Deciding it would be a smart idea to avoid the Barge Wright Inn for now, the group retires to the Electrum Inn for a few hours of rest.
Gathering in the common room the next morning it’s easy to sense there is some kind of large commotion outside. Upon exiting the inn the group hears a familiar voice bellowing out over the rabble. It’s Berek. He’s got the attention of a growing crowd in the middle of the square. He’s pontificating the value of the Order of the Light and lambasting the local order of the Shadowtheists. With the crowd getting more unruly with each sentence he speaks, it’s obvious someone needs to stop him. Everyone looks to the Cleric to gather his charge. He is however frozen, his glassy eyes reflecting a look of incredulity and exasperation. Black Santos does not move nor react as moments later Berek is shackled and hauled away by guards.
The crowd disperses. The group wearily re-enters the inn for breakfast and a chance to finally reflect and discuss what to do next. Moments of peace have been few and far between. This morning turns out to be no different when a Valencian General and two guards march into the inn and inform the Heroes they’ve been requested (not really a request) to meet with the city’s Council of Elders. Although the group halfheartedly protests the summons (except for Taran, who indignantly tells the General that he’s cut out some of his men’s tongues in the past [the Samurai’s become noticeably… erratic, since his revelation of the geas spell]) they agree to abide by the request.
The party is escorted to the West Spire for their audience with the Council of Elders. The Council consists of two haggard men living unnaturally long lives and a woman with an ethereal body (who might not be very good at being alive anymore). The Council impresses and unnerves the group with their knowledge, some of it seemingly very personal. The Council tasks the group to capture a Mage, dead or alive, operating within a dig site outside the city. The reward is simply the bestowed wisdom of the Council. As this is something they desperately need, they adjourn the meeting with a promise to hunt down the Mage.