Having detoured to the local pet store Friends & Familiars, B and his new pseudodragon Slipscale made to catch up with the rest of the party. Finding the cave the party entered and following their tracks, he came upon the ravine and spotted the rest of the group at its bottom. After climbing down and clumsily crossing the river, he rejoined the rest of the group.
The group ascended the makeshift rope ladder on the far side of the ravine and found themselves once again outside the dilapidated fortress. They noticed nearby, in addition to some chamberpots, a mechanism for lowering a boat down to the river below. Squeezing through the collapsed entryway, the group emerged in a hallway lined with several doors. They found a room full of miscellaneous supplies, presumable lifted from caravans. They also found a room full of unoccupied goblin lodgings, and a large receiving room with several monstrous guards at the far end.
They deduced that this must be the room they saw from the start of the cave, and decided to rush in and take out the guards from behind. Solstice cast Spike Growth to transform a large section of the room into a barely-perceivable trap, and the group charged. Quickly the group dispatched the goblins, hobgoblins, and gnoll, but kept one hobgoblin alive for questioning.
The hobgoblin was reluctant to share any information, or perhaps just not smart enough, though Kijani was able to scare him into providing what information he could. When prompted for information on Sickleback, he only offered that Sickleback was a gnoll and the boss of the operation. Solstice also tried to reason with their captive, but was rudely rebuffed. Kijani then decided it was execution time, though B's arrow snuffed out the hobgoblin before she could bring down her greataxe.
Returning to the hallway, a few members of the group noticed a faint chanting sound coming from nearby, but were unable to locate its source. They did stumble into a mostly-collapsed library, and found several books of interest, including several diaries. Millie pocketed a few of the still-intact books for later hocking.
After some drawn-out inspections, B eventually identified an illusion hiding another door in the hallway, clearly the source of the chanting. The group smashed in the door and before them saw an ancient throne room lit by the fires of a couple braziers with three gnolls chanting around a large magic circle. One of the gnolls was significantly bigger than the other two, with dark eyes and red stripes running down his face. He wore a skull atop his head, leather armor, and a red and gold cloak on his back. And arching up from each of his shoulder blades were sharp metal sickles, thus clarifying where the name "Sickleback" came from.
The troupe sprang into action, with Solstice quickly entangling the Sickleback and another of the gnolls. However Sickleback quickly broke free, recited a magic incantation, and suddenly everything around the party went black and cold. None of the party members could even see the paws in front of their face. From the distance they could hear indecipherable whispers, and occasionally the freezing emptiness of the space around them would be broken through be the feeling of damp masses of something lap against them. Everybody instinctively ran away, Kijani and Fern re-emerging in the throne room, Millie and B in the receiving room, and Solstice in the hall.
Each party member could now see the large, swirling black sphere that had been conjured right on top of them, though none of them knew the fate of any member not in the same room as themselves. Solstice, alone and already struggling to see as the only party member without darkvision, paced back and forth fretting. Millie, paralyzed in fear at the all too familiar feeling of being in the sphere, quickly assumed a defensive position. B, after some quick consideration, left Millie and charged back through the sphere to the throne room.
Kijani, Fern, and shortly thereafter B, moved to engage the demonic gnoll in combat but found no trace of him. As they looked around, nearby shadows coalesced and Sickleback reemerged, bombarding the party with blasts of magic, only to recede back into the darkness. Kijani and B were able to fend him on somewhat, until Sickleback unleashed a powerful spell that immediately incapacitated, and nearly killed, Fern. Kijani ran to Fern's aid, shoving a healing potion down her throat, while B tried to corner Sickleback behind the throne. Sickleback began glancing around, seemingly weighing the situation, then suddenly tossed his cloak and vanished in a puff of smoke. Moments later, the black sphere disappeared.
The group ran to reunite, with many fearful tears being shed. They found the bodies of the two other gnolls, one still entangled in vines, in the space where the sphere once sat. Hurriedly, the group looked around the throne room for any information they could find on Sickleback or his organization. Scattered around the room were many destroyed objects, some plain and some ornate, all appearing to have once been magical. The group did discover and handful of intact items, including another pair of magical shoes for Solstice. Not wanting to wait around too long and still rattled, the group made a hasty retreat from the cave.
Once they had gotten clear enough from the cave's opening, the group made camp for the night. Licking their wounds and calming their nerves, Fern and Millie decided to revisit their new pet frog Roger. B, curious about this new creature, cast a spell and spoke to the frog magically. The frog immediately professed distress that he had been kidnapped and held hostage by large creatures he didn't understand, and begged for his freedom. B, cackling with laughter, relayed this information to Roger's moms. Fern and Millie, through copious tears, decided they couldn't keep Roger captive any longer, and released him in a nearby stream. The frog immediately jumped into the water, reemerging several feet away where B heard him say "Thank you."