Last week on the Thursday game...
While the party was out on the isle of Druss minding their own business, a passing urchin slips Mordai (Tiefling Rogue) a note in guild cant that says, "Bring your companions back to Islington, it is time." Mordai tells them this, and as they try to slip past the queue forming out at the city gates by using a lesser-known side entrance, the portcullis slams shut. From the shadows and at crossbow point, a representative of the Thieves Guild speaks to them.
The guild wants only one thing: a keep about a week's ride from the city that they were using as a safehouse and storehouse has gone dark, and the guild wants to know what's happened. The party is to bring the guildsman back dead or alive, and in exchange for their assistance they are each promised something: Crow (Elf Druid), an ointment to help with her curse; Robert (Half-Elf Warlock), forgiveness for his crimes against the guild; and Borock (Dragonborn Barbarian), news about the slavers who took his family.
The party grudgingly agree, and they make their way to a tavern, the Duke's Head, in Islington itself. Gerry reaches out to a contact he once had, a rogue by the name of Geralt, and purchases mules from his contact while the rest of the party secure rations for their travel to the keep. Meeting up at the city's gates, they leave quickly enough, with Robert and Crow both being keenly aware of their own personal deadlines.
Three days into the journey one of their mules throws a hoof. While Crow tends to it, two bandits with yellow bandannas and armed with tooth-like daggers attack them. The party makes swift work of them, and hurry on to the keep. However, in their haste they are careless, and as they finally approach the keep they realise that they have been watched all this while from the keep's watchtower. Realising this, they abandon stealth and ride up to the keep's main entrance and walk straight into the courtyard.
All, that is, save Mordai, who stayed outside the gate and watched over the party from the shadows. As the party strode into the courtyard, the tiefling heard rustling coming from above; forced to choose between shouting an alarm and breaking his concealment, he chose the latter. The resulting massacre, from archers hidden all around the courtyard's battlements, felled the druid and barbarian in a single volley of arrows, leaving Mordai and Robert alone in stunned silence. Forced to improvise, Robert claimed that they were working for the master and, under the wary gaze of the archers, disarmed and let themselves be let into the dungeon to await the master's arrival.
Using a lockpick he had managed to hide from the guards, Mordai managed to pick the lock of his cell after distracting them by throwing his voice with Thaumaturgy. However, the one remaining guard heard the commotion, and the party was forced to kill their way out with improvised weapons and, later, weapons liberated from the dungeon guards.
They eventually meet Geralt and the rest of his guards in the great hall, who had gathered the party's equipment in the centre of the room. While they fought their way back to their equipment, Geralt fled the great hall back into the courtyard where he had summoned a large swarm of vermin. It turns out that Geralt and his men were all wererats, and that they are all working for some "new order" that is attempting to displace the Thieves Guild's monopoly over the region.
Controlling the vermin swarm, he sets his minions upon the party, taking out the bold Crow who had sacrificed her last healing spell for the barbarian. Robert manages to charm the rats into not attacking him for a round, while Mordai sneaks up a staircase and attempts to shoot Geralt on the battlements. Borock jumps onto the battlements with a mighty leap, but for all his athleticism fails to land a single hit on the nimble wererat. Eventually, it is Mordai who slays his old friend Geralt, and the unnatural carpet of vermin that covered the courtyard disappeared back into whatever darkness they were summoned from.
As silence descends once more, the party explores the keep, whereupon they discover the corpse of the guildsman. Moving him revealed a trapdoor that contained the deed to the keep, a chest of 500gp, and an assortment of artwork (including a particularly fine painting of the previous Duke Islington) that - at their best estimate - is worth 100gp.
Downtime Action #1
Four days pass, leaving Robert and Crow with 17 and 45 days on their respective deadlines.
Borock fortifies the ruins of the keep as best as he can with rubble and scavenged scrap. While the keep is still in ruins, he is now at least reasonably sure that there are only two possible ways in or out: through the front door, or through the servant's entrance (which can be locked and/or barred). There is now a substantial pile of firewood by the great hall's fireplace.
Crow searches the surrounding region for intelligent animals and finds the nest of an old raven. Upon speaking to her, she learns that of the four mules the party had purchased, three of them are still stupidly standing in a nearby clearing, close to where they had left the animals originally. Although it knows nothing about curses, it agrees to hide whatever Crow wants it to hide in exchange for "some shinies".
Robert rides one of the knockoff mules to the fishing village, whereupon he successfully negotiates the purchase of four horses at 5gp each, for a total of 20gp. He drinks with the fishermen to see if they can tell him more about the vermin swarm or the wererats, but they have seen and heard "nothing about no strange rats or such; this is a clean village, yes sir."
Mordai sends a message to the guild informing them that they have found the corpse of the guildsman. Surprisingly, despite Islington being a week's ride away, he receives a reply through the usual channels within two days: "return to Islington with the body for further instructions".
Downtime Action #2
Four days pass, leaving Robert and Crow with 13 and 42 days on their respective deadlines.
Borock hunts in the nearby woods for training and sustenance: not with a bow, as one might expect, but with his greataxe. Ambushing them from treetops, behind rocks, and from the underbush, he keeps himself fit by chasing down prey and cutting them in twain with a single blow from his axe (though, sometimes if they're too fast, he has to stun them with his lightning breath attack first). The larder is fully stocked for the current week, though without a proper cook there is no way for the meat to be preserved for the future.
Crow searches the woods for other druids and finds a small circle of five druids, each as wild as they are fiercely independent. It takes her a couple of days to make them trust her enough to talk to her, and even then they refuse to let her, a stranger, join the circle until she completes "a trial of strength, wit and courage".
Robert stays in the fishing village and keeps an eye and ear out for dangers surrounding the nearby region. The north of Druss, however, proves to be a quiet place, with few adventurers or mercenaries bothering to venture so far away from the mainland. However, he manages to make a few sketches of the puzzle box and hides them with the rest of his sketches, notes and idle essays about the nature of the sidhe.
Mordai joins Robert in the fishing village but notices no guildmarks anywhere in the village. It seems that, although the guild's influence must surely touch the village in some way or another, there is no official representative or safehouse this far north; the keep appears to mark the northernmost limit of immediate guild territory.
Robert and Mordai spend a few more hours at the village "bar" (which is really just a small alleyway with a few tables and chairs, and a man selling tumbles of cider from a hole in the wall), quizzing locals about the keep. They learn that, nearly five decades ago, when the keep was still the pride of the north, it was known as the Northreach Keep and was owned by the Baron Northreach. However, when it became clear that no threats would ever be coming from the north, the old Duke Islington began trimming the edges of the barony, until all that remained of it was a handful of farmsteads and this particular fishing village.
During a particularly vicious winter two decades ago, the Baron Northreach disappeared into the keep and was never seen again. Since then, no one has been by to collect taxes from the village or the farmsteads, and nobody has really bothered to go check up on the Baron or tell the Duke about this unfortunate turn of events; because, honestly, why would they? The Duke, in turn, has left northern Druss alone, most likely because the expense of sending someone this far north was far more than the taxes he was owed.