The survivors of the Tomb of Horrors take stock of the treasure of Acererak, before heading back north to Hommlet. Mortimer is quick to take possession of Acererak’s spellbook.
Anarië attempts to teleport the group straight back to Hommlet without bothering with all that tedious trudging through the wilderness, but the spell fails to take effect. Inspecting the teleportation chest, Mortimer finds that it is sparking with light as if malfunctioning. He throws a Frost Bolt at a nearby tree to confirm that other magic still works – Anarië double-checks by burning the tree down.
For the first few days, the trip north is uneventful, the party travelling by day and Mortimer eagerly learning new spells by night. That is, until their travels one morning are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a battle-scarred ranger, pointing hand crossbows directly at Anarië and Lubash. His repeated demands of “Are you with them?” do not impress Anarië, who resists the urge to disintegrate him and instead asks the stranger’s name. He is called Enderis, and it turns out that he is a native of these lands and strongly opposed to the battlemages who have been devastating the countryside he holds dear.
His arrival is timely. He informs the party that a huge battalion of battlemages is on its way, travelling south towards them en route to the Tomb of Horrors. They decide to take a large detour to avoid this force, and apart from seeing the lights from their – very large – camp overnight, have no contact with the battlemages.
Enderis joins the party travelling north, and over the next few days Mortimer and Lubash try to explain the sudden existence of a village in a place that Enderis knows to be uninhabited. They have only partial success. The journey is enlivened by the putrefying corpse of a 100-foot long worm lying across the route. Its cause of death is uncertain, and the fact that one end seems to have decayed faster than another is mysterious. What is quite certain is the foul smell, and after some inconclusive investigation the party decide to move on.
A few days later, the party arrives at Hommlet. It is a little different from when they left it about three weeks ago. Wooden barricades block the main ways into the town, guarded by a mixture of King’s Guards and Burne’s Badgers. RIma turns herself invisible before getting within sight of the village, while the rest of the party approach openly.
At the barricade, the guards are happy to let the party through, although they do insist that Anarië vouches for Eneris before granting him admission. They inform the party that Burne is confined to his tower, suffering some terrible illness. At this, Mortimer shoots off towards the tower as fast as his little legs can carry him – which turns out to be pretty fast thanks to some of Acererak’s magic. Rima, still concealed, slips past the guards and also heads for the tower.
The others are directed to the village council meeting, where they find a very drunk Tuakiin and a no-more-than-usually drunk Bard, who is devastated to hear of Carreg’s demise in the Tomb of Horrors.
It is a fractious meeting. With Master Burne being indisposed, power is now split three ways among Jonathan, Captain of the King’s Guard, Jaroo, the local druid, and Canon Terjon of the Church of St Cuthbert. This disputatious triumvirate is attempting to cope with the crises afflicting the village, including lack of water and attacks by some kind of insect-men. The supply of fresh water from the other side of the barrier has slowed, and the village is now reliant on Jaroo’s magical water jug, which becomes the focus of a dismal and inconclusive political struggle. The insect-men have apparently taken to popping up out of underground tunnels and dragging villagers off – six so far. It appears they were disturbed by some of the villagers attempting to dig a well, despite the party having specifically warned against this after the last insect encounter in Hommlet.
At the tower, the guards refuse Mortimer entry. The tower is now a plague house, and no one who comes in can be allowed out. Unwilling to be so easily put off, Mortimer recalls the secret entrance that he found some time ago, and enters the basement of the tower by that means, Rima following invisibly.
Going up the stairs, they find that Burne’s room is guarded by a very bored King’s Guard who is reading one of Lubash’s pamphlets for lack of any other diversion. A Sleep spell sends him to blissful slumber, and Mortimer and Rima enter. Inside the bedchamber, Burne is lying on his four poster bed looking very ill, tended by Rufus who doesn’t look a great deal better. Indeed, Rufus is not at all happy to see Mortimer, as coming into this room is a sentence of slow death, but Mortimer insists he will find a way to cure them both.
After the meeting, the assembled villagers (who, it turns out, are played by distinguished British character actors in non-speaking cameo roles) disperse. Anarië takes the opportunity to have a private conversation with Captain Jonathan. Suspicious of being Charmed, Jonathan insists on being accompanied by two of his guards, but soon becomes talkative when Anarië asks him to tell her what he wants. He seems attracted by the idea of returning the village to the east side of the barrier, particularly when Anarië explains that the month they have spent here is only three days there, so that there is still hope for the Kingdom of Arnest, and that the removal of the tower from the conflict could readily be blamed on Master Burne alone, while Jonathan and Anarië could gain credit for returning it.
There is a sudden commotion. A pit has opened up in the ground, and insect-men have grabbed one of the villagers (played by Sir Ian McKellen) and dragged him down underground. The villagers played by Victoria Wood and Sir Patrick Stewart have managed to get clear, but the one played by Sylvester McCoy is still in danger as more insect-men emerge from the pit.
Anarië banishes two of the insect-men, allowing Sylvester McCoy to escape, and feather-falls elegantly into the pit where she sees a multitude of insect-men dragging Sir Ian McKellen down a tunnel. Enderis leaps into the pit after her, only slightly hurting himself in the fall, and soon both are beset by insect-men while Lubash secures a rope and lowers it down. Enderis shoots rapid-fire from his hand crossbow at multiple targets, while Anarië dashes after Sir Ian, deflecting attacks from teeth and claws with her magical shield and dimension-dooring them both to safety.
Enderis, meanwhile, is getting into some trouble, being poisoned and paralysed by the insect-men’s bites. Fortunately, Lubash comes down to help, hoisting him over his shoulder and smashing the insect-men with his hammer. Soon, Enderis manages to shake off the poison and resume shooting, while Anarië returns to the fray firing scorching rays, and between the three of them they manage to destroy the insect-men and return to the surface.
Meanwhile in the tower, the guards come into Burne’s bedchamber with some food. Mortimer’s attempts to avoid being seen are comically ineffective, and he ends up having to explain that he is trying to cure Burne of the plague. At this, Bill the guard expresses his regret and unsheathes his sword. Mortimer and Rima join battle with the guards, who turn out to be a tough pair. Rima’s sleep spell proves ineffective, but a handful of animated spikes from the Tomb of Horrors do rather more damage. For his part, Mortimer is keen to exploit the new magic he has learned from the book of Acererak, and sucks the life force out of a guard by firmly grabbing him by the bollocks.
Eventually, Mortimer and Rima manage to wear the guards down, and with the help of a well-timed sword thrust from Rufus the two are dispatched. Some magical investigation confirms that this is no plague after all, but rather the result of poison contained in the food that the guards have been providing. With a little more research in Acererak’s book, Mortimer is able to cure both Burne and Rufus.
The discovery of this plot makes Mortimer determined to oppose Captain Jonathan – who has just allied himself with Anarië. The next session may reveal whether they manage to sort it all out with a cup of tea and a chat…