The party - minus Raina - blundered from the villa to find a squad of half-giants commanded by a templar waiting for them. Still smarting from their confrontation with the legionaries, the team took a beating but managed to outlive their opponents once again and escape into the night, following Karas' lead to escape the notice of the many other patrols after them. Eventually, a young elf claiming to have been sent by Zaethus - whom the party TOTALLY remembered meeting - found them and took them to a slightly down-market villa that served as headquarters for the Veiled Alliance.
Zaethus, Baristophocles and Melanthius discussed matters over wine. Mainly they discussed the crystal skull - still whispering in Pik's ear - but Melanthius wanted the druid to stay away from his daughter. Not strongly enough to take Ungarth up on his offer of a duel to decide the matter, but strong enough to involve a wagged finger. Pik assured the old man that he had nothing but honourable intentions towards the woman. He neglected to mention that in the whirlwind romance he had completely forgotten to ask her name.
Moving on, the party were asked to stand together in an attempt to free Pik from the skull's influence. The Alliance performed a ritual that sent the five of them into a psychic representation of the druid's mind and soul, where an enormous tree stood, its roots choked with serpents.
They moved in to evict the snakes, but a figure sitting in the tree objected. Clothed and armed exactly as Pik, the figure hissed threats and promises as it moved to attack. For each spirit that Pik called to his said for assistance, his dark alter-ego summoned one of its own, from a snake-tongued toad to a serpent-headed snake bear.
Shallahai animated the roots of the tree to hold the interloper in place while Ungarth and Unbreth set to stabbing him, Karas supporting and bolstering them. Pik was swallowed by the snake toad, and only freed as it disintegrated at the death of its master.
The false Pik boiled away, leaving only the crystal skull, which was what the party found themselves staring at as they returned to the real world. The VA congratulated them on freeing Pik from the skull - Rhona even showed him a mirror so that he could admire his restored mammalian features - but assured them that things weren't over.
They had freed someone from the skull's influence, but to destroy it would require a meeting point of life and death energies - someplace just like the old eladrin graveyard on the isle of Aeaeca. The party would go there in time - Pik custodian of the skull, as he'd now built up an immunity to its influence - but first they would hasten to the ludus of the Veyne family to find out what's up with Ungarth and Unbreth's tribe-mates.
Laurence J Sinclair