The as-yet unnamed party:
Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his familiar
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger
Upon returning to Fairbanks, the party made for the Temple of Life to check on their beloved Sister Marla, and they were saddened to see that her physical and emotional states had further deteriorated due to the spiritual assault emanating from somewhere in Blackstar Canyon. But she had not been idle, having made a few key discoveries in the archives below the temple. She’d learned that an ancient and abhorrent dwarven cult known as the Sowbocks had once maintained a secret shrine to the evil god Torog somewhere to the east of the town. To please their patron, the god of enslavement and imprisonment, the dwarves constructed a labyrinthine network of tunnels with a monolith at its center—all of which was designed to capture the souls of dying dwarves. Marla believed that these souls’ desperate wails for help and liberation were the source of her malady. Arxire, Erdon, and Felix swore to redouble the efforts to free not only Marla from this curse, but the dwarven souls from enslavement as well.
Gogh was then summoned by the mayor and given an urgent assignment. The mayor had two sons, the war hero Altwar and the “worthless” Antsiss. The former was leading an adventuring company based in the ancient capital of Oldberk. The latter had been sent by the mayor to apprentice at the manor house of a wealthy farmer on the southern edge of town. Of late, there’d been a few strange rumors about the manor and its eccentric owner Mordecai Malvern. And there’d been no word from Antsiss either. Above all, the mayor was worried about his worthless son causing some sort of scandal that would undermine his position in town, so Gogh swore to investigate the matter with all due discretion. The mayor even agreed to lend them the remarkable shield and hammer that hung in his office.
While Naivara and Misty convalesced in town, Gogh, Felix, Erdon, Mathis, and Arxire restocked, gathered some information (including a rumor that Antsiss had never actually gone to the manor but had instead boarded a pirate ship some months ago and sailed off in search of adventure), and set off for the manor.
The Malvern family had once been prominent farmers, though our heroes noted that their extensive fruit and nut orchards were suffering from severe neglect. The once-impressive manor house itself showed evidence of some recent calamity—windows were shattered and broken furniture was strewn about the untended lawn.
With the late afternoon shadows lengthening, the group spread out and began poking around the front of the house. Peering around the northwest corner, Arxire was horrified to behold a group of hideously mutated abominations shambling toward him—goblins with tentacles for arms, a wolf-headed thing with a clacking beak, a huge golem-like monstrosity composed of human and aquatic animal parts. Our heroes employed brawn, magic, and tactical acumen to dispatch the grotesque creatures, but they were only the beginning of the horrors to be found inside Malvern Manor.
Venomous spiders the size of pigs descending from chandeliers, suits of armor and weapons attacking from shadowy corners, and odious two-headed dogs with purple disease dripping from their jowls—and that was just in the foyer. Pushed to the brink of annihilation, the party staggered back through the orchard—wisely evading a hungry owlbear—to spend the night in the comfort of the Golden Stein.
The next morning found them back on the grounds of the manor, but this time they eschewed the front door and explored the extensive rear garden. There they encountered a beautiful water nymph beckoning them from a small pond. She claimed to be a dryad who’d been enslaved by the weird sorcery of Old Man Malvern. Felix proved resistant to her charms and insisted that she wasn’t what she seemed. But Mathis, Erdon, and Arxire approached and offered her aid, while Gogh remained hidden in the shrubbery. Felix’s intuition proved all too sharp, as the thing that might once have been a dryad revealed its hideous, corrupted nature in a flurry of tentacles that sprung from the pond. Grasping tentacles and mind-dominating psychic attacks drew them one by one into the pond, where they faced death by drowning or being devoured by the hungry jaws that comprised the creature’s submerged lower half. Finally the cackling fiend was destroyed, and Erdon emerged from the scum-covered pond with a rare and fantastical sword known as the Blade of the Deep Waters.
The party then explored the small guest house, which they discovered had been the abode of poor Antsiss, the mayor’s unloved youngest son. A thorough investigation of the fireplace, his footlocker, and writing desk revealed that Antsiss was a gentle soul, who wished nothing more that to write heroic tales of a great and noble dwarven adventurer he called “Pantsiss”. They also discovered that Antsiss had hidden away a journal and a desperate note to his father, in which he expressed first curiosity, then terror about the unnatural experiments being conducted in the manor’s basement as Old Man Malvern searched for what he called “the apex predator”. It seemed that Antsiss had become a prisoner in the manor and he feared he might become the subject of the crazed dwarf’s next experiment.
After resting briefly in the guest house, they investigated a gazebo that overlooked the foul pond. They found tomes and runes to be used in a ritual for corrupting woodland creatures, which seemed to shed some light on the nature of the tentacled creature that had nearly lured them to their doom. Arxire took a particular interest in this ritual and its trappings.
Turning their attention once more to the manor house, they crawled through an open window into a music room that featured an elegant piano with several sheets of music lying about. When Arxire played the music, eerie illusions of tentacles and aquatic scenes emanated from the piano. Further explorations of the ground floor turned up a mysterious, though obviously magical music box devoted to the heroic dwarven thief Calibra Dalig. They also discovered the incubation chamber of the giant spiders, which they torched, and the bodies of several dead town guards, who Mayor Whitebeard had sent to the manor the week before. In the extensive library, Felix and Arxire laid claim to several rare and interesting tomes about botany, the region’s history, and dwarven commerce.
Though thoroughly ransacked, the ground floor seemed to hold no further danger, until the party espied the bottom half of a glistening orb dangling from a large central chimney. After a few tentative investigations, Mathis’s curiosity got the better of him and he grabbed the orb with both hands—and immediately found his hands irrevocable stuck to the glistening globule and his entire body being dragged up the chimney. First Erdon, then Gogh, then Felix grabbed hold of the monk, but they all lost their grip. Arxire made a brave dash up the heavily damaged staircase, but it collapsed under his weight, sending him careening to the floor of the great hall in a pile of dust and rubble. And Mathis continued to be dragged to some horrible, unknown fate in the backness above.
But Erdon had spotted a thin tendril connecting the globule to whatever was reeling it up from above, and he prayed to Mystral, summoned spectral blades, and called upon them to make a desperate slash at the tendril…and Mystral answered his prayer. The tendril was severed and the monk came tumbling back down the chimney, bruised but safe.
Making their way carefully up what remained of the staircase, the party explored the mostly empty, though trashed, second floor. But in the master bedroom, they came across an old, emaciated, nearly dead dwarf, who’d been severely beaten and mutilated. They assumed that this was Old Man Malvern, but they couldn’t confirm it, as the dwarf’s tongue had been ripped out. A search of the bedroom revealed a journal chronicling the eccentric dwarf’s obsession with octopi, which he revered as the “apex predator”, and his twisted quest to harness the power of the creature through inhuman experiments.
They located a trapdoor to the attic and steeled themselves to face whatever horror had nearly dragged Mathis to his doom. And it was waiting for them, a hideous amalgamation of giant bola spider and octopus that immediately snatched Gogh into the air and then sent a barrel crashing into Arxire and Erdon, knocking them through the attic wall and sending them tumbling to the manor lawn three stories below. Which left Gogh, Felix, and Mathis to face this eight-legged, eight-tentacled horror the size of an ox-drawn cart.
Free of the tentacles, Gogh used his elusiveness to strike vulnerable areas, while Mathis waded in with knees and elbows flying. So fierce was the latter attack, that the behemoth was knocked off-balance and flipped onto its back, and Mathis continued to pummel away. Meanwhile, Felix sacrificed a handful of valuable diamond shards in order to conjure forth chromatic orbs, which he sent hurtling toward the beast to devastating effect. By the time Mathis and Arxire had recovered themselves and made their way through the house and up to the attic, the abomination lay dead at Mathis’s feet, while Felix giggled maniacally and Gogh chuckled from the shadows.
But even this ghastly monster paled in comparison to the unholy horrors that awaited them in Old Man Malvern’s basement laboratory. Gogh was first to descend the staircase onto a metal catwalk overlooking a tiled room filled with bizarre apparatuses and equipment, several huge holding tanks containing vile fluid and tentacled creatures, several bookcases full of scrolls and tomes, and worst of all four giant leech-like creatures and one hideously mutated monstrosity with tentacles for arms, a giant beak grafted onto his face, and a horned helmet bolted to its bulging skull—the same type of helmet poor Antsiss was known to wear. Gogh’s skill in quiet murder were on display, as he quickly and quietly dispatched one of the leechlike creatures that was crawling about on the catwalk.
Then Mathis silently descended the steel ladder and took up position behind one of the large specimen tanks. Erdon descended into the chamber of madness next, but he was less stealthy, and the vile creatures swung their hideous gazes in his direction. Arxire gazed into the creature’s eyes and peered into its warped mind, searching for some sign that poor Antsiss was still in there, somewhere. But there was nothing but madness, rage, and hatred. Thus was the final confrontation in the doomed manor house commenced. Guessing that the dwarven music box had been among Antsiss’s most treasured possessions, Mathis used its song to draw the creature that must once have been the poor dwarf near the tanks, but its mutated appendages could no longer grasp the box. At that point, the thing became enraged. It thrashed about, shattering one of the holding tanks and sending noxious fluid spilling out all over itself and the floor. Mathis then lit a torch, dropped it in the substance, and watched as the thing became engulfed in flaming acid. Erdon then climbed from the catwalk onto an adjacent tank, and from there launched himself onto the back of the creature, sword-first. Felix then scuttled up the wall and onto the ceiling, and from there he began to launch withering arcane attacks on the creature. Arxire and Gogh were holding off two leech monsters that were attempting to ascend the ladder to the catwalk, when suddenly the creature that once was Antsiss grabbed the ladder with its tentacles, ripped the think out of the floor and sent the whole catwalk and those still standing on it tumbling to the ground.
After perhaps the most desperate struggle of their adventuring careers to that point, the abominations were finally put down, though our heroes were not out of danger yet. For the laboratory was filling with noxious fumes of burning chemicals, and the ladder to the only exit lay in a twisted heap on the laboratory floor. While Gogh, Arxire, and Felix rushed wildly about the lab gathering books, scrolls, alchemical equipment, and other valuable loot, Mathis scaled the wall and secured a rope to a sturdy banister on the ground floor. With mere moments to spare, the party staggered, choking and spitting, out of the now burning manor and onto the lawn outside. But suddenly they remembered the nearly dead dwarf on the second floor.
With blinding speed borne of his monkish training, Mathis dashed inside the house, now fully engulfed in flames. His companions watched the door for the monk’s return, but suddenly they heard glass shattering and looked up to see the monk, with the dwarf in his arms, crashing through a second floor window, just as the manor house exploded in a calamitous blast of alchemical ferocity.
The monk landed unharmed on ground below and rejoined his companions as Malvern Manor and all its horrors and secrets burned to nothingness in the slanting afternoon light of late autumn.