While Hesiah and Vesuvion were off fighting in the goblin caves, Terek and Vallyn had a discussion with Alara Greatwood about how possible it would be for her to return to Aelaris. Vallyn, having seen her before when she was younger, can confirm that she probably wouldn’t be recognised unless she met someone who knew her – however, if Petey Whitecastle is running the country as regent, she probably won’t be able to e.g. enter the palace to discuss things with him without running the risk of being unmasked. Shortly after this discussion, Nevan returned to the bandit camp, having managed to lose the goblins chasing him. He told the others that Hesiah and Vesuvion were inside the caves, but considering how hard it would be to follow them without attracting attention, everybody stayed in camp until the other two returned, grievously injured and carrying an owlbear egg.
The following day, after the nymph Eudora has been rescued from the ice demon who attacked her, she tells the party that they saved her life and she will therefore come with them to translate any discussion with the goblins. On the way to the goblin camp, however, four large wolves surround the group in a clearing, and a fight breaks out. The wolves are initially not totally visible, hidden within the trees as they are, but Vallyn uses faerie fire to outline one of them in violet flames and then Terek charges into the trees, heedless of personal safety, swearing vengeance on the species that destroyed his home and killed everyone he’s ever known who aren’t the people with him in this clearing. The wolves attack him as a pack, but are mostly defeated by his very crunchy plate armour – at least long enough for Vallyn and Hesiah to join him in the trees and start being violent. Vesuvion, Nevan and Eudora remain in the clearing, casting spells and shooting arrows variously. Over time, the wolves are blinded, confused, have a lot of holes poked in them, and eventually die after managing to bite Terek and Hesiah a couple of times and knocking Vallyn over twice. After Terek chops one into tiny pieces in the force of his vengeful rage, the final wolf is dispatched with a knife across its throat following a short debate about what one can really do with an unconscious wolf anyway. It’s at around this time that Vallyn notices that these wolves seem rather unusual – they behave more like plains wolves than forest wolves, and in fact they seem somewhat similar to the wolves that attacked Fellwalk, although a bit smaller.
Rather than standing around pondering these mysteries, the party moves on quickly to the goblin caves to escape any other wolves coming after them. Once there, Eudora helps to open negotiations with the Goblin King, who refuses to consider the idea of the goblins leaving their caves. Or ceasing to rob the bandits. He also somewhat dismisses the idea that any group of adventurers could get rid of the owlbears which forced his goblins from their previous home. He suggests that the bandits leave instead, but since that’s not at all what Alara proposed, another solution has to be found. Hesiah suggests that trial by combat might result in one of the party becoming the new goblin king and thus being able to order them to leave. He offers the honour of this fight to Terek, naturally. The Goblin King complains that Terek is much taller than him, and it wouldn’t be fair. However, a thumping from within the goblin caves soon turns out to be an ogre, who emerges, and who conveniently is equipped with a saddle to allow the goblin king to ride on him. This, the goblin king says, will make them equal combatants. Preparations for the fight go ahead while everybody except Terek hastily works out whether they can possibly help him in this fight without it appearing to be cheating. (Terek, of course, is sure that any assistance he gains will be his right, and is not cheating. Nobody tells him otherwise.)
Goblins and non-goblins take up position outside the cave entrance. Vesuvion establishes a mental link with Terek and skims the thoughts of the goblin king, relaying his plans to Terek to allow him to dodge many a blow. Vallyn, meanwhile, casts what spells he can to distract and hurt the ogre by mocking it, or to deflect its blows and keep Terek from harm. Hesiah shouts occasional helpful advice from the sidelines such as ’don’t get forced into the cave’, while Nev hovers nervously nearby being of very little use. Eudora watches, interested to see how the natural order pans out. At first, neither Terek nor the goblin/ogre combo can seem to get the advantage on each other, but the balance of the battle changes the second time Terek attempts to cut the goblin king’s harness off the ogre’s back. With the goblin on the ground, he is easily killed – particularly as the ogre has just been sufficiently distracted by Vallyn’s tactics to go after him instead. However, just as it looks like it might be a relatively simple job to finish off the ogre, a new threat appears – another owlbear, even larger than the one that Hesiah and Vesuvion encountered in the cave. It has been watching the fight until it makes a noise and is noticed. Nev shoots it with an arrow, which it doesn’t seem to like, then hides to avoid retribution. Goblins panic. Terek tries to shepherd them into following his orders, even going so far as to kill one of them for disobeying him, but it just seems to make things worse. He gives up and attempts to throw the goblin king’s crown to Nevan, but accidentally crowns one of the other goblins instead. However, this glorious reign is short-lived, as the owlbear hops down from the hillock and crushes multiple goblins under its claws, including the crowned one. Hesiah and Terek converge on the wounded, blinded ogre, planning to finish it off before turning their attentions to the owlbear, and manage to push it into the owlbear’s path. However, Vesuvion targets a spell directly at the owlbear, drawing its attention. Luckily, with everyone’s combined efforts, both the ogre and the owlbear are dispatched relatively easily, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief.
…that is, until they remember all the loot in the caves that the goblins stole from the bandits, which they could even now be removing and running off with. The front entrance was blocked by goblins fleeing into the caves away from the owlbear, so the party runs round to the owlbear lair entrance. Hesiah and Vesuvion mention that there was another passage which might have come out somewhere nearby, but nobody can see anything. Vesuvion and Vallyn sense something magical, but as it doesn’t respond to being prodded with a quarterstaff – and as wolves are still howling in the forest around – everyone heads in through the known owlbear entrance. From the owlbear cave – still a destroyed mess, now with a partially-buried owlbear corpse – Vallyn, Vesuvion and Terek go to investigate the other passageway. Nevan and Hesiah stay behind until they are called to follow, because a room with a very strange swirly orange-blue portal has been discovered. Everyone goes through the portal (after careful peeking through first) to find themselves in a strange nonagonal room with a giant green crystal embedded in its centre. From the crystal, lines of crushed red crystal lead to each of the walls, and in each wall there is yet another swirly orange-blue portal. Above each portal is carved the sigil of one of the Great Houses – with the portal leading back to the goblin caves surmounted with the tree sigil of House Greatwood. Everybody finds this rather concerning. Discussions are had about how dangerous this room is, who could possibly control it, whether anyone has heard of such a thing before, and where that trapdoor twenty feet up in the air might lead. The trapdoor that, now that they look at it closely, looks like it made be made from wood from a tree from somewhere well north of Aelaria. Discussions immediately turn to whether the crystal can or should be destroyed (probably yes, probably no unless some other escape route could be discovered), whether disrupting it would do any good (probably not as someone could just come back in the room and put things back the way they were), and whether anyone wants to go see what’s on the other side of the trapdoor before they’ve had a chance to recover from all the fighting (no). It’s decided to leave this problem for later and go deal with the goblin loot for now.
Back in the goblin caves, a helpful pair of goblins point the way down the loot tunnel before being sent off by Terek in the direction of the portal room. Everyone else attempts to interrupt Eudora’s translation of this before it gets underway, but the goblins leave anyway. Lots of shiny loot in a chest is discovered, and divided up equally between the party, who agree to return to the bandit camp to recover before revisiting the portal room. Back at the camp, Alara is eager to know everything that has happened, unsure about Eudora as a forest neighbour, and unconvinced by Vallyn’s story that they only recovered one gem from the goblin hoard. Everyone turns over all of the loot, except for one pocketful that Vallyn holds back, and 5 gems which Vesuvion has identified as magical (and deduces may be related to types of skills, and may be beneficial if used to boost them). Everyone rests and recovers. Hesiah checks on his owlbear egg – still making scritching noises – and packs it up to take with him. Nevan trades a pickpocketed amulet from Aelaris for some hard cash, and everyone gets a fifteenth of the recovered loot as a finder’s fee. In the morning, however, when the party come to return to the goblin caves, Alara insists on coming with them – possibly because she heard Vesuvion say something about portals, possibly because she just really doesn’t want to go to Aelaris with Petey Whitecastle.
Back at the caves, the portal is as it was left, as is the portal room on the other side. Alara demands that the trapdoor be opened, which Vesuvion does for her, and a rope ladder descends. She immediately scales it and climbs out of sight, heedless of warnings that this may not be anywhere in Aelaria. Everyone hastily follows her. From the tower top on which they emerge, the ruins of Scorax city can be seen all around. And within the ruins, there is movement…