Riding on ponies loaned to them by the knights, the warmth of the morning sun soon heightens the spirits of the Capital Punishers after the trauma of the night before. The ambush site is marked from afar by a broken wagon. When the group arrive they find the area to be completely deserted. Disturbed ground shows signs of a short struggle that took place there. This tale in the dirt conflicts with the story told in Finnagin’s office that the victim had been knocked out instantly from behind. As the rest of the group investigate the wagon, Grimlock finds traces of willow bark.
Surprisingly, this leads to a good bit of sleuthing on his part. He notices that there are no willow trees in the area. Thinking back, he remembers a nearby clearing from his lonesome wanderings a few days before that did have willows. The dragonborn alerts his comrades and, surprised and impressed, they follow him to this new destination. The willow clearing is not far away and they arrive after a reasonably short walk. Willow trees sway gently as the group look around, and it does not take Skullfucker long to find the remains of a recent campfire near a quiet stream.
Crouching by the embers, Grimlock discovers remnants from burnt pages. He passes these charred samples to Wistark for analysis. The wizard recognises words from the surviving text – these were pages from a book of necromancy. Sensing that something is not quite right, he glances up, right into the face of a man hiding in a tree. Armed men begin dropping from trees all around. One man appears at the top of a muddy hill, boldly shouts “So, you’ve returned!” and then orders his fellows to begin the attack.
Encounter: Gondor’s Marauders
Grimlock is injured so badly in the battle that Norman is forced to remove his entire left eyeball. Though the brigands fight to the last man, the last man surrenders. The Punishers learn that the attackers were simply foolish opportunists: they had found the abandoned campsite and lain in wait for its campers to return. It seems the trail left by the woman’s ambushers is now cold, so the group hogtie the surviving thug, take him to the city guard and receive a good reward for his capture. Perhaps the University of Esselfine will offer more substantial leads. Wistark and Norman pay it a visit while Ignatious orders a light lunch for the group to share.
Esselfine’s receptionist is helpful at first, saying that she has not heard anything about robed figures entering the university during the night and knows of no suspicious characters in the infirmary. Unfortunately, Wistark then makes a bad move by mentioning that the attack was on Esselfine’s rival. The old woman is offended and asks the pair to leave. Norman suggests paying a visit to the Dean, but not insistently enough to earn the wizard’s attention. They leave the grounds of Esselfine behind and join their companions for lunch, courtesy of Ignatious, agreeing that the Droog meeting place will be their next target.