Relaxing in the Tipsy Tankard, Jinvar bought a round of drinks for everyone in the tavern and made sure to tell them it was "on Turnbull's dime". The townsfolk, very familiar with Turnbull's tightfisted ways with money, didn't necessarily believe Jinvar, but they did enjoy the drinks...
The next day, the group brought their cache of goblin ears to the local town reeve, a dwarf named Gunder Valkenheiser. After paying them the bounty for each pair of ears, Valkenheiser told them to stick around, and that he might have a job for them in the next day or two.
There wasn't a lot of action going on in town. The party came across a lone goblin in the nearby woods who was lost and afraid, hardly a threat, and they eventually decided to let him go. Later in the tavern, the group examined the book they had taken from the black-robed mage in the underground structure and found it to be dense and unreadable: a mix of pictograms, letters from multiple languages, and some of it actually written backwards. They surmised that it was written in a complex code and they put it aside for later analysis.
Turning their attention to the letter scroll they'd taken from the mage, they discovered that the mage's name was Steros, and that he was a low-level field agent (an "Argent") of a group of mercenary wizards known as the Midnight Conclave. These mages-for-hire were known for doing "dirty work" for clients who wished to remain anonymous and distanced from the dangerous or incriminating activity. From the letter, Argent Steros' employers were becoming impatient with the lack of results he was sending them. The letter also revealed that the giant machine they'd seen him working on had been an Engine of the lost race of crystal elves known as the Stratavar, who had been responsible for nearly bringing doom upon Hybrith in an ancient era. The letter was signed with a mysterious glyph that none of them had never seen before.
Lastly, after trying unsuccessfully to work the brass eggs/mechanical birds they had found, they took them to a clock maker in town. The old man identified them as gearhawks, a very expensive automaton construct, most often used by the very rich. He explained that gearhawks can be outfitted & "programmed" for a variety of purposes, including hunting and scouting; the gearhawks the adventurers had found acted like tape-recording carrier pigeons, and they were programmed to deliver audio messages to a pre-determined location. The gearhawks were very complex, and as a simple clock maker he couldn't tell them where that location could be. However, he did give them the names of two different clockwork engineers - one in Rock Harbor, the other in the dwarven city of Demfarrow - that might be able to help them. He also advised them that the Engineer's Guild in Ironhold was the best place to find assistance on matters of automatons, but that city lay far to the east. The party offered to sell the gearhawks to the clock maker, who told them he didn't have enough gold for even one of the advanced constructs.
Upon reaching the grounds, they found it seemingly deserted but with evidence that Nahkriin's band of thugs was still present somewhere. They also found small white and yellow poppy-like flowers, and barrels filled with white powder. Drugs.
The group approached the mansion and knocked several times at the door. There was no response, and they found the door unlocked. Before going in, Jinvar used his Divine Sense: as the paladin reached out with his holy magic, his probing encountered the filthy aura of the undead... lots of them.
Jinvar kicked the door in, and as the group entered the mansion's foyer a bloodied halfling in thieves' leathers ran past them and out the door, shouting "Oh thank the gods, it's open!" before the door swung shut on its own. Lander tried the door and found it sealed shut as the halfling's scream of terror and anguish sounded outside in the vineyard. They tried to smash the windows but found them unbreakable. The manor was under the sway of powerful magic, and they had become trapped.
The adventurers advanced further into the house and encountered zombies: some fresh and some very old. They fought them but there was another wave. Just then, the team encountered a pair of bandits who had been looking for their halfling companion. The bandits helped the adventurers fight off the zombies, then told them they were hiding out in the cellar and that it was safe down there. The heroes refused to follow them, and Lander tried to fry one of them with his Eldritch Blast. The attack merely burned the thief's flank. Snarling, the thief continued his retreat to the cellar as the heroes took on another wave of zombies. There were more coming down from the second floor as well, and outside they could see the shambling shapes of yet more undead, including the halfling thief. Hopeless in the face of so many undead, they decided to retreat to the cellar.
The team conferred, and agreed to help the bandits... provided Mila testified to what the gang had done and to Nahkriin's murder of the reeve's father. She eventually consented, and everyone decided to rest up for the night before they set out into the tunnels. The night passed mostly without incident, breaking only when a disembodied hand attacked during Jinvar's watch. The bandits and the other heroes awoke to find him furiously chopping and stomping the skittering hand, then they went back to sleep.
At sunrise, the group awoke and readied themselves, as members of the bandit group began pulling the barricade from the cellar wall leading into the darkness of the tunnel...
Behind the screen: Whew, that was a bit long, eh? Couldn't be helped: at the table playing this session, it felt like there wasn't a lot happening, but tonight going through my notes I realized there had been a lot of small things going on. A few hard turns to the left, but nothing really to worry about. Jinvar's player was reluctant to used his Divine Sense, and did so only because the other players encouraged him to do so. I'm glad he did, because the sudden sense of evil zombies (my exact words: "The house stinks of the undead") raised the atmosphere to a simple raid on criminals to something much darker. It felt like a cool moment.
ALSO: IF anyone is reading this, and the name "Reeve Valkenheiser" rings a bell, you must've seen "Nothing But Trouble"...