After debating their available courses of action, the group decided to investigate Edwin Tolstoff‘s manor, which lay some 200 miles to the southwest in a largely uncharted part of The Darklands. After Droverson teleported the group to Auspex, the party requisitioned some horses and set out into the wilderness, making for Kael Varda’s ancestral home.
Despite being attacked by the local wildlife, including a trio of wild gnolls and a pair of hungry owlbears, the group soon arrived at Tolstoff’s manor. A small village surrounded the great manor house, but as the group approached they quickly determined it to be empty. Hitching their horses outside of a tavern, the group entered – Droverson and Darius inspected the wreckage of the tavern’s main room, while Peter von Pyrom began sampling the intact bottles behind the bar. Unfortunately, all of them contained horrible things, such as gobbets of flesh, urine, dirt and bugs, and even a bottle of liquor with a severed, decomposing hand inside. Peter, undaunted, sampled every bottle, but found himself diseased when he drank from the bottle with the hand inside.
Meanwhile, Kael heard a sound upstairs, and crept up the dilapidated staircase to the second floor to investigate. Finding a dark and battered hallway with unsettling dark stains across much of the floor, the mercenary ranger summoned Darius and Droverson up to assist him. The three of them opened one door and examined the dark room inside, and were quickly puzzled by the fact that although the room had a hole in the roof, no sunlight made its way inside – from inside the room, the day outside seemed black as night. Droverson cast light on a piece of wood and threw it up onto the roof, but it illuminated only the darkness. Peter, hearing the commotion, went outside and threw a bomb onto the roof, setting the abandoned tavern afire.
Suddenly, the group heard a terrified scream from downstairs. Rushing back down, Kael and the others encountered Peter, who was curled up in a corner gibbering with fright. The diminutive alchemist was unable to explain what had terrified him so, but the street outside was empty. However, the group’s horses were all mysteriously dead, although they remained standing at their hitching posts – their blank eyes staring at the party. Darius quickly became nervous as well, advising that the group flee, but Kael and Droverson insisted that they had to finish their investigation. Fighting back their fear, the group made their way up the hill to Tolstoff’s mansion, as the sun began to set and true night descended on the Darklands.
Approaching the darkened keep, the group opened a heavy pair of oak doors to reveal a darkened hallway swarming with insects. Droverson blasted the creatures away with a Scintillating Sphere spell, but the group quickly learned that vicious insect swarms seeped constantly out of the darkness of the keep. Using Droverson’s Storm Bolt and Darius’s Fiery Burst, the group was able to keep the swarms at bay while searching for clues and treasure. Although the group found a portrait of Kael’s grandparents as children (with a solid gold frame) as well as some salvageable gems, when they had searched nearly a quarter of the keep, they had found no new clues.
Suddenly, a horrible derghodaemon materialized from thin air, menacing the party with sharp claws and chitinous mandibles! Kael, who had been readying an action to shoot any foes that appeared, quickly got the drop on the creature and used his Arrow Mind spell to prevent it from attacking him as he filled it full of flaming arrows. The rest of the group quickly overwhelmed the creature before it could attack, burying it under a hail of Peter’s bombs before Darius blew it apart with a Searing Orb of Fire. Shrieking, the creature vanished back to its nightmare plane, leaving behind only a cloud of noxious smoke. Soon after, the party discovered a locked door with an Arcane Lock spell on it, as well as a strong mechanical lock, but Droverson was able to open the door by calling a Knock spell from the Spellpool of The College of the Arcane Order. Behind the door, the party discovered an old dining room which concealed a secret passage, but the group elected to finish exploring aboveground before descending.
Searching the rest of the keep, the party found a few more gems, as well as a long-dead stable boy’s ancient diary tucked behind a container of flour in a pantry. Although most of the diary was illegible, it revealed a few clues, such as a conversation overheard between Tolstoff and an invisible entity, which contained the phrases “Serving the Master”, “The Curse”, “Freeing the Ancient One” and " Nightstalker is on to us". Returning to the secret passage, the group discovered a solid iron door barring the way. As Kael began attempting to unlock the door, a heavy thud echoed from the other side of the door. The group recoiled in horror as something beyond began battering the door with increasing force, and the swarms began to close in behind them…