The Sinister Six

#45 - The Scaled Lords, part 2
"Let's just bomb the place!"

After looting the equipment of the dragon’s bodyguards, Kael and Peter made an attempt to collect the dragon’s scales and other valuable body parts, while Darius cut a piece of its hide for use in his Create Treasure Map spell. Afterwards, the group Teleported back to Nighthold to sell their equipment. Finding a dwarf blacksmith named Clyrrik the Halt, the group quickly unloaded their goods and sold the dragon scales to the dwarf, who planned to craft a suit of platemail out of them.

Returning to Villia, the group headed back to Ivan’s druid grove, but was shocked to find all of the druids slain, including Ivan – tracks and evidence showed that the druids had all been killed and partially eaten by some kind of beast, whose tracks mysteriously disappeared shortly after slaying the last of the druids. The group then headed for one of the marks on Darius’s treasure map, arriving at a large pyramid-like structure heavily populated by more snake-men. The group deliberated for a time on the best way to gain entrance, but eventually decided on attempting to bluff their way in – Darius shapeshifted into a red dragon, and the group introduced themselves as mercenaries who wished to join up with the snake-men for mutural benefit. Although the sentries and commander were initially skeptical, the group managed to convince them of their sincerity, and they were given heavily secured quarters underground beneath the pyramid. Using more of his strange powers, Jeryk managed to escape and explore the pyramid undetected, determining that a large magical gate was installed beneath the pyramid, along with a great deal of weaponry and siege equipment. The group deduced that the Vanguard was attempting to set up a system of troop movement via magical gates that would allow them a huge logistical advantage over enemy armies, allowing them to deploy their strength against the enemy’s weaknesses strategically and take over much of Villia, if not all of Sor’drim. Breaking out of their chambers, the group quickly crushed their opposition and destroyed the gate, but alerted the snake-men on the other side of the portal in doing so. Although their assault was initially a surprise upon the inhabitants of the pyramid, the commander eventually managed to rally his troops, bringing dozens of Vanguard troopers to bear against the party. However, they were no match for the group, and even their release of a fiery demon availed them little. The group was cutting their way through the seemingly endless tide of opponents when, suddenly, a woman’s voice called out for aid down a tunnel, promising 10,000 gold pieces to anyone who would assist her escape. Darius, remembering that a guard had earlier shouted orders to keep the escapees away from “the prisoner”, quickly began making his way in the direction of the cry.

As Darius and Kael began heading towards “the prisoner’s” possible location, a field of Black Tentacles suddenly sprang up, entangling Droverson and cutting Darius and Kael off from the rest of the party. A Fireball, followed by a huge Web, also sprang up around Jeryk and Peter, but they were able to shrug off most of its effects. Peter took refuge inside of an alchemical smoke cloud while Jeryk managed to reveal an invisible assailant using Faerie Fire, and engaged their mysterious antagonist in melee combat. To the vigilante’s surprise, his opponent was highly skilled in both swordplay and magic, and the two fought for several rounds. Just as Droverson freed himself from the tentacles and began to teleport himself to Jeryk’s aid, the party’s assailant suddenly became visible – at first glance, the attacker appeared to be Darius, but the group quickly discerned that he had merely altered his shape to confuse them. Badly pressed, the fake Darius suddenly threw down a black gem, which shattered and released a cloud of choking black smoke – when the smoke cleared, a huge creature had appeared. Vaguely resembling a nightmarish snake demon, the creature’s shadow suddenly began to devour everyone nearby. In a rapid flurry of savage claws, the creature forced Jeryk to flee and struck down Droverson before turning its wrath upon the fake Darius, opening him to a vicious backstab from Jeryk. When the dust had settled, the creature was gone, but Jeryk thought he detected sounds from a nearby room that indicated the creature might be burrowing into the stone.

Regrouping, the party began to administer healing items, bringing Droverson back from the brink of death. Their resources ebbing low, the party began to search more earnestly for the the remnants of the Vanguard forces as the sun began to set on the stronghold…

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#44 - The Scaled Lords, part 1
"Well, I guess I get eaten"

After a suspicious and near-hostile greeting, Skinwalker teleported the party to a strange, unknown location which resembled a plush mansion sitting room. Sitting in a great velvet chair, the shape-shifting sorcerer interrogated the party about their progress, questioning their lack of updates to him personally and demanding to know what they were doing in Villia. Repeatedly throughout the conversation, Skinwalker changed both form and demeanor, seeming to alternate between a paranoid attitude and an aggressive, confident one. After hearing from Steve about the green dragon that Ivan had encountered, the sorcerer became interested and teleported the group to Ivan’s “druid grove”.

Skinwalker took the form of a Treant and began acting oddly, attempting to speak to Ivan alone, but Darius quickly informed Ivan about the treant’s true identity. Laughing it off as a “funny joke” Skinwalker took another humanoid form and informed him that they were all going to destroy the dragon together. Darius, attempting to convince Skinwalker that the group could handle it on their own, nearly set off a violent confrontation by casting a spell and triggering a counterspell from Skinwalker, but managed to successfully defuse the situation and convince Skinwalker that the group could handle the dragon on their own. Ivan initially expressed a willingness to assist the party as well, but Darius managed to convince him to stay behind as well. Ivan instead handed the group a bag full of useful potions to use against their enemies.

En route to the dragon’s known hunting grounds, “Steve” took the time to divulge a little bit more information about himself. Declaring that his real name was Jeryk Eddon, he told the story of how his village had been attacked and wiped out by a mysterious group of “snake people”, and that since then he had been hunting them down and dedicating his life to revenge. Furthermore, Jeryk hinted that in order to defeat his enemies, he had had to “become one of them”, taking the form of a humanoid with yellow, snake-like eyes. Lastly, he divulged that he had discovered a large cache of information which revealed that the group, called “The Vanguard”, was also somehow involved with the Elder Evils.

Finally, the group arrived at the indicated area, and Jeryk moved forth to scout out the situation. Unfortunately, the heavy brush impeded visual spotting, and he was spotted while discovering the large green dragon’s location. A pitched, vicious battle ensued, with the dragon’s elite Vanguard archer bodyguards pressing the party dangerously in addition to the dragon’s breath, spellcasting, and devastating melee attacks. However, thanks to protective spells cast beforehand by Droverson, the group was largely unharmed by the dragon’s acidic breath – Kael, however, was caught out of position while engaging an archer and savagely mauled by the dragon’s claws and bite. However, the ranger’s preternatural determination and stamina allowed him to survive the ordeal, although he was unconscious for the rest of the battle. Luckily, devastating barrages of magic from Darius and Droverson, in addition to a relentless stream of bombs from Peter, took a heavy toll on their opponents, as did Jeryk’s quick footwork and ruthless greatsword attacks. Heavily wounded, the dragon attempted to escape, but Droverson used a Celerity spell to blast it with Chain Lightning before it could flee. Patching up their wounds, the party set out to return to Ivan’s druid grove…

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#43 - The Real Story, part 2
"Whoops."

As the party readied their weapons in horror, the jeweled skulls and bones on the shelves began to shake and rise into the air, glowing and spinning. There was a flash of bright light, and after a moment, the group could see again – beholding the floating, glowing form of an ancient lich. After an initially tense moment, the mighty Kimach began to speak to the group, answering their questions and asking queries of his own. Slowly, the group learned that The Sinister Six were actually the third group to rule Sor’drim, and drew their powers from imprisoned entities called the Elder Evils, which included Kyuss and The Leviathan. Kimach related that the Elder Evils had originally been imprisoned by a powerful man called Warden, thousands of years ago. Kimach also admitted to killing him and forming The Sinister Seven before eventually growing tired of ruling and leaving to explore the planes in astral form. The ancient demilich also answered several of Kael‘s questions about becoming a half-vampire, telling the ranger to seek out The Necrotic Cradle and defeat its guardian if he wished to assay the change. Declaring that he intended to depart Sor’drim for good, the demilich vanished, and the crypt began to fall apart around the group.

Teleporting back to Primus, the party informed Tarterus Jones about everything they had found, giving him a panic attack – Jones quickly enlisted Steve‘s help in perpetrating an elaborate ruse to fake his death and assume a new identity under the name of Magus Mytus. Meanwhile, Droverson learned that he had completed most of his coursework at The College of the Arcane Order and now needed complete his thesis and graduation requirements, which included the construction of a magical item using the laboratory’s lab. Kael and Steve also sold some antique swords they had looted from Kimach’s Tomb to a private collector calling himself “Mr. Ashfield”, acquiring in return magical schematics for a pair of powerful dueling gloves which granted the wearer the ability to wield two weapons in combat.

Well-rested and ready to continue on, the group teleported to Villia to investigate the story of the green dragon Ivan had encountered, but Droverson accidentally overshot their destination, teleporting the group directly across the border. Much to their horror, Skinwalker immediately appeared to investigate the intrusion…

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#42 - The Real Story, part 1
"Don't...touch....ANYTHING"

Arriving in Scrape, the party quickly began doing research on Kimach’s Tomb. However, they swiftly discovered that a group of thugs was attempting to suppress information on the tomb, angering many of the locals. Making their way to a warehouse where the group was supposedly located, the party detected the sounds of combat from within and breached the main door, discovering that the inside of the warehouse was filled with supernatural darkness. As the darkness dissipated, the group saw a mysterious stranger standing over dozens of slaughtered corpses. When Kael demanded the stranger’s name, the man looked pointedly at the corpses covering the floor, smirked, and said ‘the Winner’. Before further introductions could be made, however, Darius and a few others detected the sounds of an incipient ambush, and the party quickly prepared themselves for battle. Springing their enemies’ ambush, the group made short work of the four cambion enforcers and two cambion mages that attacked them – during the combat, the newcomer, who later introduced himself as “Steve”, displayed the ability to move between shadows and make devastating sneak attacks.

After defeating the cambions, the group decided to join forces and make their way to Kimach’s Tomb. At first, the locale appeared to be nothing more than an empty cave beneath a decidedly creepy-looking tree, but Steve spotted a tiny crack in the floor which revealed a room of worked stone far below. Teleporting himself there, the mysterious vigilante set up a small light source, allowing Droverson to _Teleport _the rest of the group down into the strange structure. Inside, the party found hundreds of mundane and magical traps, all aged to uselessness. Kael looted a few ancient swords, while Droverson and Peter studied the previously-animated statues and discovered clues pointing to the possibility that the entire place was thousands of years old.

Opening some of the usable doors off the hallway, the party saw many strange and terrifying things, including a hallway full of nimblewrights and a sphere of annihilation contained within a flickering cube of force. “Steve” also discovered a room full of maps and diagrams, but only managed to retrieve a small portion of one map when Peter disturbed the air within the room and destroyed most of the papers. The map was significant, however, showing tick marks on various geographical locations along with several mysterious names, one of which was Kyuss. However, the location of all the tick marks was lost with the exception of one, located squarely on Freesite, which was marked with the word ‘Zargon’.

Moving on, the party discovered that some of the guardians were still active, and had to fend off an attack by reth dekalas and arisen incarnates, during which “Steve” demonstrated his ability to rage (impressing Kael) and Darius utilized a new spell to turn himself into a large red dragon. Droverson also utilized a Chain Lightning spell to blast several of the guardians. Finally, the group discovered a small secret door, which led to a little room filled with jeweled bones – skulls, hands, spines, feet, several skeletons’ worth of bones and thousands of GP in gems. While arguing about whether to loot the gems, one of the group mentioned the possibility that they resembled the physical bodies of demiliches, and Peter wondered aloud if one of them might be Kimach. Suddenly, a voice boomed out, “Who speaks the name of Kimach of the Sinister Seven?” Droverson managed to yelp in disbelief ‘The Sinister SEVEN?!’ before the darkness began to close in…

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#41 - Cat and Mouse, part 3
"This always worked before!"

Before anyone could act, The Rattler quickly leveled a beam of green light at Hazerath, striking him with a Dimensional Anchor spell and preventing the shadowy cleric from teleporting away. Threatening dire wrath if he was disobeyed, the lich instructed the others to fetch Hazerath and Tomokk and bring them back to him.

As the party crossed over into The Darklands to do the skeleton’s bidding, however, a sudden fog sprang up, and Ivan appeared out of the mists and urged both groups to follow him. The Rattler’s voice boomed out “I wouldn’t do that if I were you”, but no one paid any heed. Following the rogue druid through the fog, the party made their escape as the Rattler fired off a couple of spells, then teleported away to plan his revenge.

Safe from the Rattler for the time being, Hazerath and the group faced off uncomfortably – Ivan, as usual, was no help and immediately stated “I have to go” before disappearing yet again. Droverson confronted Hazerath about his theft of the dagger, but Hazerath stood his ground and reaffirmed his conviction to stop Kyuss and The Sinister Six. However, the shadowy cleric was not antagonistic to the group, offering to assist them if possible and promising that Droverson could have the dagger back “if I die”. Promising to keep on the lookout for Sending spells from the party, Hazerath and Tomokk vanished into the night, while Droverson teleported the party to Nighthold.

Arriving at Nightstalker’s Keep, the party was surprised to see that the entire city was in a state of lockdown, with guards posted at the entrances to nearly every building. Kael attempted to order the sentries to let the party in, but the sentries had orders not to admit anyone, including the party. Droverson used a Sending spell to contact Kellux Antigua, but the vampire steward was curt and dismissive and told the party not to bother her. The party was able to take refuge in an inn after Peter slipped some “roofies” to a couple of guards, and the group learned that all of Nighthold was preparing for war after a sizable army had been spotted making its way towards the city – Kael supposed that it might be The Gray Render Company.

Deciding to continue their investigation into the subject of Kimach’s Tomb, the party teleported to Scrape to follow the trail further…

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#40 - Cat and Mouse, part 2
"How about, we take all the items, and you go to hell?"

After debating on their next course of action for a short while, the party made the decision to strike at Marcus Hape before he could recover. Droverson used one of the party’s remaining scrolls of Discern Location to find Hape, and was disheartened to learn that the assassin was in The Rattler‘s castle, biding his time in a waiting room. Although the party was greatly daunted, they decided to risk it, and infiltrated the castle. Using several of Droverson’s spells to disguise some of the party and make others invisible, the group infiltrated the waiting room and sprung a surprise attack on Hape – Kael used his Disrupting Attack technique on the assassin, preventing him from teleporting, while Peter blasted their foe apart with bombs. However, as Hape’s pieces were flying away, a powerful spell took effect, and brought their foe back to full health! Undaunted, however, Droverson and Darius blasted the assassin with spells, weakening him enough for a final arrow from Kael to kill their foe.

The group’s victory was cut short, however, as The Rattler arrived, greatly displeased at the mayhem within his own castle – especially since he and the group had not parted on the best of terms previously. Only Darius’s Voice of the Dragon spell saved the group, as the evil lich made his displeasure known. When Darius attempted to loot Hape’s fallen body, he ran into a Wall of Force – the Rattler made it clear that he considered the assassin’s items forfeit for the group daring his wrath. He did offer the group one item from the assassin’s corpse, but decided that he would force Kael to wear a magical collar which would explode if the group did not report all their findings to him each day.

As the group absorbed this information, the Rattler suddenly asked two very pointed questions: ‘Where is the Half-Orc?’ and ‘Where is the Masked One?’ When Droverson explained the situation, the lich immediately demanded that the group produce Tomokk’s remains. Kael and Darius went to recover the half-orc’s corpse, but found to their surprise that the body was gone – but no other corpses around it had been disturbed. Worried, the group reported their findings to the Rattler, who immediately demanded that the group turn over their last remaining scroll of Discern Location.

The lich cast the spell, then began to cackle madly, saying “Oh, interesting indeed!” Ordering the party to gather around, the Rattler Teleported everyone to a desolate spot on the border between Gulark and The Darklands. Not far away, to everyone’s surprise, was a disguised Hazerath – and a resurrected Tomokk! The two groups stared at each other in shock as hands twitched towards weapons…

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#39 - Cat and Mouse, part 1
"I give him the finger while falling!"

Cautious thanks to Shadow’s warning, the party teleported to Chain to speak with Soelma Nilaenish. After explaining their situation to her, the party requested that she create them a scroll of Discern Location to find Marcus Hape and get to him first. The next day, the party returned and retrieved the scroll – Droverson cast the spell, and quickly reported to the rest of the party that Hape was right outside The University of Thaumaturgy, already within striking distance of the party.

Kael used his Scout’s Headband to invoke a brief True Seeing effect on himself, and quickly spotted Hape outside disguised as an old woman hanging out near a cluster of golems. Knowing that the effect would quickly fade, the group decided to counter-ambush the assassin. Peter created a distraction by planting a bomb in an outhouse, which distracted most of the golems, and Kael sent a sniper’s arrow at Hape with the aid of a Hunter’s Mercy spell. The arrow wounded the assassin, but Kael was forced to use his Vanishing Cloak to escape from the golems before they spotted him. Droverson, running up to the “old woman” pulled a great bluff to convince Hape he would teleport “her” to a healer. As the “old woman” nodded “her” agreement, Droverson took hold and teleported the assassin a thousand feet straight up, thinking that it would be tough for Hape to escape. However, the assassin merely congratulated Droverson on his inventive approach, then Teleported away.

The group evaded the golems searching for the source of the disturbance and regrouped, pondering how best to respond to the knowledge the Hape was a much more powerful spellcaster than they had originally thought – Darius, his memory now jogged, recalled Hape casting many powerful spells during their duel, and Droverson also recalled Hape casting an empowered Fireball during their staged battle at the inn in Primus. The group asked Soelma for two more scrolls of Discern Location , which she provided. Thus armed, the group began to plan how to turn the tables on Hape…

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#38 - Homecoming, part 5
"What type of action is it to soil myself?"

Proceeding further into the fog, the group found themselves facing a shattered steel door of immense size, which radiated the remnants of epic abjuration magics. In the corner, the group also found the discarded equipment of another group of adventurers, including a black sword, some green gloves, and a steel-visored helmet.

Making their way into the vault beyond, Droverson discerned the source of the permanent mist spell ahead of them, and Darius managed to dispel it. As the fog dissipated, it revealed other figures standing motionless in the room – two more wyste wights and a cinder scourge argorth. A pitched battle quickly ensued – while the creatures were savaged terribly by Kael‘s arrows and Darius’s Firebrand and Searing Fireball spells, Peter quickly fell victim to more madness brought on by the sight of the wyste wights, collapsing into a nightmare-filled coma. Droverson was badly unhinged by the sight of the creatures as well, in addition to temporal shifting caused by his Celerity spells, but still managed to inflict heavy damage upon the monsters with his lightning spells. Eventually, the party defeated all their opponents, although they were left bloody and exhausted. Quickly gathering up all the loot (including a huge tome written by Edwin Tolstoff), the group blasted their way out of the dark mansion and teleported back to Nighthold.

After drinking more of Peter’s Restoration extracts, the group visited several merchants in various cities to sell the treasure they’d found, as well as forging a new friendship with the Dread Necromancers of Xavier Bloodpike’s Necrovatory. Reading the tome they found, the group discovered it was a partial diary written by Tolstoff himself. Although the first three-fourths of the book were torn out, the group found several interesting references within the diary.

The remaining entries told of Tolstoff becoming ill and hearing “voices in the night”, as well as being terrified of “something corrupting him”. The book made references to someone called Kimach and “The Ancient One” before Tolstoff apparently died of his illness. However, shortly after that entry, Tolstoff began writing in the book again, but now his handwriting was shaky and splotchy, crawling all over the page and splattering much of the text with moisture or slime. The archwizard’s story now told of “the thing I have become” and “The Curse” before relating that Tolstoff was “sealed away” by his daughter. The entries continued for many years of imprisonment and rambling about “the only way out” as Tolstoff became increasingly unhinged. Finally, the last entry read “they are breaking me out” and “he is coming…” before the writing trailed off into a final shudder.

Using Droverson’s Teleport spells, Darius and Peter returned to Auspex, while Droverson and Kael took a side-trip to Pax. While Droverson and Kael related the contents of the journal to Tarterus Jones, who warned them against investigating Kimach’s Tomb, Darius and Peter were contacted by Shadow Killerson McDeath, who warned them that Marcus Hape had offered him a 10,000gp contract to kill them. The party regrouped in Pax to speak to Julius Jackalseye, but their interrogation turned up no new leads. Daunted, the party turned their sights towards their next goal…

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#37 - Homecoming, part 4
"I parry with my liquor!"

As Droverson blasted away with his Storm Bolt power to keep the swarms at bay, Kael quickly scanned the door for traps and picked the lock just as the thunderous blows from the other side of the door ceased. Weapons at the ready, the party opened the door to attack whatever was on the other side…and discovered only a dark hallway. Shaken, the group explored the twisty passageway beyond, but found only a dark, long-unused wine cellar. However, Darius and Peter noticed a crack in the brick wall along the back of the cellar, through which an open space could be glimpsed. Droverson attempted to shut the iron door against the encroaching swarms, but quickly discovered that the door could not be opened from the inside…and that the inside was covered with scratch marks. Wary of being trapped, Kael managed to disable the latch, but the party found that the door would not close properly without latching. After Kael’s attempt to wedge the door shut with the broken pieces of a wine rack was unsuccessful, Droverson summoned a Hold Portal spell from the spellpool and stopped the swarms from entering, although the young mage warned the others that the spell would only hold for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Peter used his delayed-explosion bombs to blow a hole through the brick wall, revealing an older portion of the cellar that had been bricked off. Beyond lay a hallway filled with dense fog, which regenerated itself if dispersed. Moving cautiously, the group explored a room branching off the hallway, but were attacked by a wyste wight that suddenly loomed out of the mist, attacking Peter with its vicious claws. Darius incinerated the creature with a Firebrand spell, leaving only its twitching hands, but Peter was badly unbalanced by the sight of the creature and began acting oddly. The party retreated beyond the reach of the fog, but Peter suddenly tackled Droverson and began mixing some kind of chemical while gibbering.

At that moment, two crawling claws – the creature’s severed hands! – appeared out of the fog, leaping towards the party. Kael and Darius were strangled by the creatures briefly, but managed to throw them off – however, Darius was shaken by the things’ otherworldly appearance. Kael and Droverson also faced mental impairment from seeing the hideous things, but managed to resist using their mental training (although Droverson’s resistance probably owed more to his drinking habits). After a brief battle, the party destroyed the claws, and spent a few precious minutes healing and drinking restorative elixirs that Peter mixed up. Knowing their time was running out, the party ventured back into the fog…

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#36 - Homecoming, part 3
"I'm not going in there, YOU go in there!"

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…

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