After investigating the site of the Orc slaughter, the party returned to the Stonebuckle estate to rest. The next day, Astraia teleported them to the clearing near the Arbiter stronghold that they had teleported to once before, and set out towards their destination, travelling inside a sphere of invisibility cast by Regen.
The forest was eerily silent, and after passing through the barrier surrounding the stronghold, they found it to be abandoned. In the center of the courtyard stood a banner: a skeletal dragon in profile. Before the banner, thrust into the ground, was Astraia’s glaive. The party split up to investigate the stronghold.
It was clear there had been a struggle. A wooden building in the courtyard was destroyed, and inside stood a familiar stone archway. Jhaerin looked upon it with his voidsight, and saw black tendrils spiraling out from the archway. Sera remained outside, complaining of a strange, brimstone-like odor filling the courtyard.
The group that ventured into the keep first investigated the library. The library was empty, the books having been likely magically transported out. The blacksmith’s room was entirely gone, cleanly cut from the surrounding rooms.
Having finished their search of the interior, the group rejoined those outside. They picked up on a set of tracks leading around the back of the keep, outwards through a blasted hole in the wall. They followed the tracks for half an hour, until they reached an unnatural clearing. The ground was charred and the trees burned away in a circle, all the way through the canopy above. The tracks ended in this clearing, so the party turned back to spend the night in the keep.
After returning to the keep, Regen insisted that he was now able to teleport the party. The others, unconvinced, had Regen demonstrate this for them. And, to assure them that it was safe for not only himself but for others, to take his ram along with him. Regen went out of the keep, and after an amusing minute long ritual with his ram, they disappeared. Two minutes later, he and the ram appeared, unharmed, down the road.
After waking the next morning, Astraia teleported the party once again, this time to the location gifted to her by Rolibard. The party found themselves in a raging blizzard, standing before the barrier surrounding Straven’s keep. Climbing over the drift of snow piled against the barrier, they found reprieve from the blizzard inside the barrier. Sensing something was not quite right with this drift of snow, though, Regen blew the snow away with a gust of wind. A mass of corpses, seemingly scrambling to escape, lay against the inside of the barrier. Touching the barrier, the party found it to be impassable from the inside. With no choice but to proceed, they headed up the long stairs to the entrance of the keep.
Reaching the top of the stairs, the party knocked on the grand doors into the keep. The doors swung open, and music could be heard from inside (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dedMP7eda2E). After stepping into the comfortable warmth of the keep, they made their way through the entrance hallway, seeking the source of the music. At the end of the hallway, they passed through another set of doors, finding themselves in a bustling ballroom.
The room was filled with people dancing along to the music, all finely dressed. Regen stepped onto the dance floor, and a woman emerged came forward, joining him in dance as they disappeared into the crowd. A man on the other side of the room stood, greeting the “newest guests,” and inviting them to enjoy the party. Astraia and Amrath stepped onto the dance floor, partners emerging to join them as they disappeared into the crowd. Jhaerin spoke back to the voice, before being ensorcelled to join the dance as well.
The rest of the group made their way past the dancers, and entered the dining room. The same man that greeted them in the ballroom stood in the dining hall, and suggested that they partake of some refreshments if they’re not in the mood for dancing. Arlon took a seat at the table and began to eat.
The remaining two party members, Merris and Aiden, took a moment to discuss their options before speaking with the man in the dining hall. The man asked if they were enjoying the party and such, and was very polite,. He always tried to steer the conversation back towards the festivities, suggesting that they put their business off until the morning. A few times, though, he reacted strangely to the group’s statements, leading them to believe that they were speaking to a programmed illusion.
Back in the dance hall, Regen, who had started dancing of his own accord, took his leave from his partner to speak to the man who had greeted them. The man introduced himself as Straven, and after speaking for a moment he bade Regen return to his dancing. Regen found himself walking to the dance floor, but broke free and turned back to speak some more. After finishing, he found his partner and began dancing again.
A short while later, Jhaerin broke free from the enchantment, his gauntlet bursting into crimson flame. The musicians stopped, and everyone in the room turned to stare at him, astounded at his rudeness. Jhaerin went invisible and snuck to a side room, and the music and dancing started again. The side room seemed to be some sort of pleasure room, curtains partitioning it into small private areas. Averting his eyes and ignoring the sounds from behind the curtains, he walked through the room, finding himself on a balcony overlooking the beautiful scenery of the surrounding area.
At Sera’s prompting Regen broke free from his enchantment as well, and after dancing with Sera for a moment, launched an explosive orb of ice at the chandelier above the dance floor. For a moment, the halls went dark and cold, the dancers flickering into eyeless corpses. In the dining hall, Aiden and Merris saw the dining guests to be huge, distended creatures, shovelling rotten flesh into their razor sharp maws. A second later, everything returned to as it was earlier.
Regen launched another iceball, destroying the musicians, and the true form of the keep was revealed once again. The corpse dancers all collapsed to the floor as Amrath and Astraia stood in horror. Arlon was nearly sick after realizing what he had been eating. Everyone regrouped in the dance hall, and the voice of Straven echoed around them. He told them that they were not the first to come seeking his knowledge. After rejecting his party, they would now play a new game. Music once again began to play (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVtvPXVysiE).
The group began to explore, first checking the balconies over the dance floor, but they found that there was nothing behind the curtains leading from the balconies, just solid wall. Remembering that there was a door off the dining room, they checked that, but found that the door was only there in the illusion. Regen shattered the wall where the door was, revealing another wall behind it. The dining creatures took notice, and began to lumber after them, as the music shifts once again (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfWuwTrcKnE).
The party easily outpaced the creatures across the ballroom, heading back into the entrance hallway. The hallway they found was not the same hallway they had come through earlier. This hallway did not lead to the entrance, but was lined with endless doors. Opening the doors with magic, they checked each door, and discovered that each door opened to one of three locations: a bare hallway filled with snowdrifts, a residential hallway, or a spiraling staircase. The fat creatures were catching up to them, so they all piled through the residential door and closed it behind them. Opening the door back up, instead of leading back into the hallway they came from, it lead to the spiraling staircase.
The group headed down the hallway, and stopped to investigate a bedroom. Merris was called forward to check a chest for traps, and several others went into the room to check things out. After checking the chest, Merris found that his hands were stuck to it, as the chest, the bed, and the cabinet all revealed themselves to be mimics. The door slammed behind them, separating them from the rest of the party.