After some shouted conversation, each side barely able to understand the other, Charles touched earth and caught up with the others. It seems that when the others were captured, he was stuck on the head, and woke the next day with Kobakk, who had apparently grabbed him and then fled, until he was exhausted and collapsed some great distance away. His eyes had been irritated to near blindness by the gas, but thankfully it had been temporary. They had reached Doma again on foot, their progress aided by some friendly Garoujin tribes amongst the Shuman mountains, and later through the use of teleportation magic, after granting some Gunnir mages a fair sum for their trouble. Having arrived, he had ordered the organization of a military force to advance on Baron, planning to oust the current ruling class by force in retaliation of their blatant attack on his person.
Charles was somewhat put out and perhaps even a bit embarrassed to learn from his comrades that it had been nothing of the kind. They recounted the tale of their encounter with the savage orc tribe, the strange cave full of natural and magical wonders, and many many skeletons, and finally of the Naga and desert brigande-merchant hideouts. Charles put a stop to the military advance remotely, making use of some telepaths he'd brought along for similar purposes, having been reasonably convinced that attempting to Annex Baron wouldn't be a wise move at just this moment.
They met with Neb's friend, Samantha Stewart, at the Farnesworth institute, who was able to tell them baldy what the real state of the country was. The nobles controlling Baron's various military forces stood divided, all poised against one another in a myriad of fledgling factions. Small skirmishes were taking place all over the country, and all out war was inevitable. It would take a miracle to bring the nation back from it's descent into chaos.
They let Samantha in on their mission, and she in turn offered what little she could: She showed them an old passage into the Capitol, hidden in the facility's basement. It was intended to be an escape route in case the Capitol were ever sacked, but it was built many years ago; Not only the castle itself, but the entire capitol have been half ripped up and rebuilt since then, and it was unlikely that the existence of this tunnel was common knowledge any longer. At Neb's request, Charles allowed Samantha to board his ship, which would carry her safely to Doma. Anthony left by the same means, claiming that his contract was up, though Paul stayed on out of a sense of obligation.
Making use of the tunnel Sam showed them, they found themselves in some dank, dark place under the Capitol. It looked like a dungeon, but if it was so then it hadn't seen use in quite some time. It took the better part of an hour to discover a way out, but they managed it, and found themselves in a now deserted set of Barracks and a bare military office. No torches lit these rooms, and a fine coating of dust was everywhere. Trevor was able to identify this place as an abandoned guard office and prison in the slums. Luck was still with them, for the time being, since coming straight up in the castle would have made things very, very awkward.
Seeing as Charles' missive to the High Council had now had plenty of time to arrive, he and Leothe were able to get the rest of grudgingly agree that they should be fine to walk the streets, approaching the castle openly and directly. They did so, and found that they were more or less expected. They were quickly ushered high into the castle, where they met with the men and women responsible for beginning this whole ugly mess. Charles, with the occasional whisper to or from his companions, attempted to negotiate with the men and women of the Council. Myrnal was quick to point out, quietly, that the room was oddly absent of guards and they they had not been searched, things that made her very uneasy. Neb also noted that all by the council chairman has a glassy look about them, and seemed to need a little too much time to think about most of their statements and answers.
Abruptly, the chairman took out his pocket watch, glanced at the time, and then without preamble bid everyone a good day. Daniel, more than a bit confused, demanded and explanation as the chairman turned his back on them. He stepped into an alcove at the back of the room, and turned to them so that he was framed by a window there. He smiled and replied:
"I only needed to keep you busy long enough for the strike team to arrive. My apologies, but my plans call for the King of Doma to die in Baron today. The rest of you... well, my apologies."
As he finished speaking, three things occurred simultaneously: The Chairman disappeared, the other councilors went limp, their heads crashing onto the conference table, and five heavily armored and well armed guards appeared in the doorway. In the ensuing battle, Trevor was injured quite badly. Charles opted to remain with him, ordering the others to go after the chairman, and to bring him back. They would need him alive to make and sense of this. Nigel and Pail remained with them, to make sure no further harm came to either.
The teleportation device was still active, and took Dan, Myrnal, Neb and Leothe to a strange place: Though they were outside, the air smelled stale. No breeze stirred the air here, no birds called. For that matter, no animals scurried about, and there was not even the chirping of insects to pierce the quiet. Before them lay a cityscape, burnt out and slowly crumbling as they aged. Dan was able to recognize it easily enough; Isalia, the ruin of what was once Baron's greatest city. Leothe quickly picked up on the Chairman's trail, his keen elven ears able to pick up the man's movement in the otherwise utter stillness as plain to him as if he were instead a small parade.
Their chase was not easy; the restless undead and lesser demons stalked this place, and they had to fight off many of them, while it seemed that somehow the Chairman was able to deftly evade them all... Dan, Myrnal and Leothe's combat prowess, supplemented by Neb's magical support made quick work of most of them, and they eventually caught the Chairman up. He'd holed himself up in the shell of a building, nearly at the center of the town. It looked to have once been a library, but no souls had sought knowledge in this place in a very long time from the look of it. The air was chill, and full of unspoken menace. They entered, even as the cold threatened to freeze them to the spot.
Inside, they found the chairman, creating a magic circle of some kind. In the center sat an odd object. It might have been art; It was a thing of black glass and gold wire, what looked like an hour glass suspended horizontally abode the ground, sitting on a base made from what appeared to be a square plate of Ivory, but was far too large to have come from any creature any of them had ever seen.
The chairman turned and, discovering he was not along, shrieked in surprise. He uttered a word, and the air began to shimmer. He disappeared, though the object remained. It glowed an unwholesome shade of green, and a the whole city seemed to come alive with growling and moaning. They were barely able to bar the doors before a veritable sea of undead and small demons beset the library.
Daniel had every intention to die fighting while the others sought a route of escape... while Myrnal, thinking quickly and hoping for the best struck the strange object with one of her knives, shattering the 'hourglass' at it's center. The resulting magical backlash knocked her across the room, where she fell unconscious. The cacophony of wails and bleats and groans outside quickly died off, and the place was still again. The demons had vanished, and the undead had become normal corpses once more. The feelings of unnatural cold and fear left them. Myrnal in tow, they made their way out of the blasted city, now devoid of any life or unlife, sinister or otherwise, unsure of their futures, or that of the nation.
They were met along the road heading north by a farmer, who was taking a cart of hay in the same direction. The farmer agreed to take them along, letting them off a few days later in a small, rural village. Myrnal woke en route, and while tired, hungry, and oddly cold, she was not much the worse for wear. She made a strange, half mumbled comment about hell being full of straw, but shook her head when asked about it. They reached the Capitol once again in less than a week. On arriving, they were pleasantly surprised to find that the place was, at least so far, not yet a war zone.
They learned that Trevor was still alive, but his wound was not responding to magical treatment; The weapon he was struck with was cursed, and not magical healing would take. The ex-monarch's continued survival could not be ensured. With what strength he had left, however, he had managed to take back his crown, and was working the remainder of Baron's political machine to try to prevent war. Without a council left to rule, and the discovery that the current members had been mind-wiped thralls for some unknown amount of time, it wasn't as difficult to recover his power. However, his condition was still a stumbling block. He had no heir, and badly needed someone to replace him in the event that his condition worsened suddenly. With everything going on, he understandably had little time to see anyone.
Charles had waited for them, claiming he knew they'd be back, and was using what little influence he had here to bolster Trevor. After all the political morass between Doma and Baron in recent years it wasn't very much, but it was better than nothing. Charles was disappointed that they hadn't been able to apprehend the traitorous chairman, but the discovery of the artifact in Isalia would work well in his place. The knowledge of it's destruction would go a long way towards stabilizing the nation.
Charles had sent word to Doma that they'd need a ride back, but it would be another few days before it arrived. In that time, they were able to rest and seek medical treatment, though Dan could hardly bring himself to sit still, let alone rest, knowing about the King's condition, worrying that the work he was doing would make things worse.
When they returned to Doma, Baron's future remained uncertain, but it was at least brighter than it had been before they came.