Into the Shadowfell
Leaping into the portal, the Blades narrowly avoided a costly battle with elven guardians of the High Forest. The elves did not pursue, instead standing with bows drawn waiting for any undead horrors that emerged from the now-activated portal to the land of the dead. One of the elves began a ritual to close the gateway, severing the link between planes – and leaving the Blades stranded in hostile territory. Finding themselves alone in an abandoned room of some ancient Netherese ruin, the Blades decided to wait out the elves. The portal back to the High Forest, decorated with trees and similar carvings, closed with little fanfare.
The room seemed safe enough so the Blades set a double watch and tried to get some rest. They had been sleeping just an hour prior, before being woken by elves. Throughout the night strange noises, shouts and moans were heard down the hall. The hallway seemed to lead directly outdoors, up a long passageway. Nothing disturbed their rest despite the odd sounds, and soon the Blades were ready to explore the shadow plane.
Emerging from the long tunnel, the Blades found themselves on a grey, featureless plain. Grayish-green grass covered the land, though no trees could be seen. Foothills rose into mountains in the distance and at their feet rose a single black tower. The Shadowfell was known to basically mirror the natural world…and no mountains were in the sight of the High Forest they just left. They had traveled not just to another plane, but an unfamiliar location within. Just then a rumble was felt, a deep earthquake originating in the distant mountains.
Yarnon felt the pull becoming stronger still, an urge to travel now towards the tower. With little plan in mind they set out to destroy the soulstone containing the devil Zathraxa. Traveling down the path, they encountered a familiar spirit, a transparent image of the dead Pilgrim of Oreme, Maldreth. He looked no better than they left him, his ghostly form still showing gaping mortal wounds. A brief conversation with the specter revealed he refused to continue to the afterlife. His actions in life had now caught up with him, and honoring his warlock pack would mean losing his soul were he to continue on to the Fugue Plane.
Normally, souls are known to travel to the Shadowfell immediately after death. A few are tormented in the shadow plane, trapped in nightmares of loss and sorrow, some becoming undead monstrosities or refusing to pass on. Most continue to the Fugue within hours, the domain of Kelemvor, Lord of the Dead. From the Fugue, souls are taken to the domain of a sympathetic god, one they worshipped in life or whose beliefs closely match. Deniers of the gods and blasphemers are abandoned and meet a dismal fate; Kelemvor disposes of their souls.
And in rare cases, for the unwise mortals who make pacts with demons or devils, they come to collect on that dark bargain. While the other Pilgrims went on to the domains of Shar or Gruumsh, Maldreth’s soul hid here, avoiding the fate he was due. A feeling of familiarity had drawn him here, only to lead him to his killers. As the Blades spoke to their defeated foe, he began to look over his shoulder with fear in his ghostly eyes. He bolted into a run, trying to flee some unseen pursuer.
Moments later, over the hills came a vast horde of creatures. Marauding demons charged after Maldreth, easily catching him. Over two dozen beasts were in the pack, mostly dretches. A few larger horrors led them, claws reaching forward and snatching the half-elven spirit. He would not so easily escape his pact.
Seeming unconcerned with the fate of Maldreth’s soul, the Blades did their best to avoid notice, not wanting to attract attention of a raiding band from the Abyss. A few dretches caught their scent, charging forward. The Blades drove the simple beasts off, quickly killing them but attracting the notice of the entire pack. They attacked, eager to return more souls to their demonic masters.
The dretches fell in droves, each leaving behind a putrid cloud of poisonous vapors. The larger demons, two neldrazus and a bloodseep demon, fought savagely. A neldrazu, claw still holding the screaming soul of Maldreth, attacked Kriv and just as its massive claw touched the paladin both combatants disappeared. They reappeared 50 feet away, separated from the group. The same was done to Griegor – now both warriors were on their own, battling the four-clawed takers of souls while their allies dealt with a horde of dretches.
Kriv turned and rushed back to the group, leaving Maldreth to his fate. As the Blades slew the remaining horde, the neldrazu holding Maldreth cut his losses, turning and running away. Malreth’s screams could be heard fading into the distance.
As they took a breather, two humans approached the group from a healthy distance. It seemed like they were watching the battle, and they yelled to the Blades, “Get back to the camp you worthless mercs! Demons aren’t the worst you will face alone out here!” With the warning given, the men headed back towards the tower.
Mercs? That would make a convenient cover-story. As the ‘mercs’ approached the distant tower, they began to notice tents beneath it. An entire tent city, an encamped army! What was an army doing in the Shadowfell?
Approaching the camp, the Blades fit right in with the motley crew of mercenary races. A party of dragonborn, tiefling and humans did not seem so out of place in a camp containing orcs and kobolds mixed with dwarves, halflings and even a few trolls. Investigating the camp, the Blades found that all the mercenaries were hires of Netheril, preparing for some future battle. The various groups had come through different portals, some ported here directly by powerful magics. None mentioned the portal to the High Forest taken by the Blades. Rumors circulated that an attack on some Zhent stronghold was imminent; in the meantime the different mercenary bands trained, prepared and drank to forget the creepiness of this plane. Merchants and other services had sprung up, taking advantage of the isolated location to charge exorbitant prices for basic goods. At least undead did not seem to be a problem in camp – the dead seemed to avoid this bastion of the living.
Fibbit left to scout the tower, attempting to gain access as a servant but was turned back by platemail-clad Netherese guards. The Blades then came up with a cover story: they were mercenary captains with armies at their command, and they wished to negotiate a contract. They hoped they would find a means to destroy the soulgem they still carried inside the tower, the tower still insistently calling Yarnon to it. The cover worked and a meeting was arranged for later in the day. The Blades just had to wait for their audience with the warlord of the Umbraforge.
Just Had To Wait
Heading back to one of the numerous drinking tents, the Blades were blocked by a drunk ogre stumbling out of the tent. The brute ran into Kriv leading to an argument and a challenge to settle matters in the training grounds. Fibbit thought it so convenient…he had noticed the ogres before, and still had a debt to fill to Curuvir. He owed the mage the tongue of one who speaks Giant and an ogre would certainly do.
Following the ogre, the Blades soon met his friends: three trolls. The trolls battled each other in the training area, claws tearing flesh only to have it regenerate in moments. On hearing the insult done to their ‘clan’, the trolls challenged the Blades to a battle to the death. Now, death may have a different meaning to trolls…but it seemed rather permanent to those unable to regenerate limbs. All Fibbit needed was a tongue and he pressed the attack, flinging a dagger into the ogre. The trolls charged the lone halfling, ripping into him.
At this point the other Blades hesitated. They did not want a battle with trolls here, in the middle of the Shadowfell, hours before they were scheduled for an audience with the local warlord. Fibbit seemed overly bloodthirsty and the rest did not want to blow their cover or expend resources that may be needed later. The other Blades quietly backed away, leaving the training area as Fibbit was surrounded by trolls. Wounded, alone and feeling betrayed, Fibbit dodged between two of the beasts and made a hasty retreat. Where was he going to get the tongue of a Giant speaker now?
The trolls laughed and went back to their sparring. It was still early in the day, plenty of time to have more battles to the ‘death’.
Hours later a servant of the Netherese warlord arrived at the bar tent, instructing the Blades to follow him back to the tower. Climbing several flights of stairs they reached a top-level office. Seated was Thannu, the captain of the guard. Two black panthers slept at his side. Behind him was a detailed map of western Faerun, showing many national borders. The map roughly outlined a plan of attack against Darkhold. Odd lines connected distant dots on the map, all centering around Darkhold.
Thannu conducted negotiations for the true warlord of the tower, a Netherese general named Sarshan. The guard captain offered the ‘mercenary leaders’ a simple contract: 1000 gold each in return for the services of their armies in the upcoming campaign against Darkhold. In two months time a quick and overwhelming attack would be carried out on the Zhentarim stronghold, launched from multiple havens in the planes. Until that time, the Blades would agree to gather their armies in this warcamp and train and equip them as needed. Basic equipment would be provided here, at the Umbraforge if needed.
Official contracts were brought out the the Blades encouraged to sign the dotted line. Operious quickly noticed the geas embedded in the documents – if signed, they would become binding. The Blades would have to gather an army and participate in the attack, dieing if they refused. Rather than sign, he covertly ‘signed’ the contracts with prestidigitation magic. The effect would only last an hour, but until then the signatures seemed the real thing. Satisfied, Thannu turned his new mercenaries over to his servant for a tour of the facilities.
Finally all this subterfuge would pay off. Soon the Blades would be able to destroy the devil’s soulgem in the magical forges beneath this tower and escape this plane. Yarnon felt the pull strongest here, a nearly overwhelming urge to continue downstairs.
The servant led the new hires around the facility, showing off the top-quality dwarven slaves and row upon row of newly-forged swords. The Blades were quickly led past some rooms from which only screams could be heard, then downstairs past many corridors to a large forge. “And this is the Foundry,” he said, showing off a massive smelting area. Dwarves labored in chains nearby. The Blades moved closer for an inspection. Unobserved, they swiftly tossed the soulgem into the hottest part of the forge. Mission accomplished. The work started in Benadar Manor a hundred years ago was finally complete. Zathraxa was no more…
The servant led them back upstairs; the tour was over. As they climbed a loud explosion sounded from behind them, back in the Foundry. The ground shook, stones coming loose from the walls and ceiling. A massive earthquake began, threatening to tear the tower apart. Had the soulgem caused this? With no time to consider the possibility, the Blades fled outside, joined by dozens of others within the tower.
Outside was chaos. The quake has opened dozens of rifts in the ground throughout the camp. Odd black smoke and shadow rose from the crevices. Lava gave an unearthly glow from within. Fires had caught in many tents and soldiers ran about with buckets, putting them out. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Blades snuck out of camp and traveled back to the High Forest portal. Looking back, the tower remained standing in the distance.
Long Road Home
Returning through the portal into the natural world, the Blades were surrounded by elven archers. “Kill them!” shouted the leader, but he was quickly overruled by an old robed elf. The elderly man closed the portal to the Shadowfell with a spell, then turned to the Blades.
“You could have destroyed this entire forest by recklessly opening a portal to the Shadowlands. Yet I sense you have removed a great evil from this world. My soldiers will escort you to the edge of the forest safely. I suggest you do not return.”
With that the Blades began an uneventful journey to their stronghold in Llorkh. Crasous could wait for a magical report, there was no need to travel to Yartar. Once out of the High Forest, Yarnon no longer felt the tug of the tower. She wondered what had caused it; it seemed to cease upon Zathraxa’s destruction.
Once again in safe territory, the Blades planned for the future. Much good remained to be done. Yet they knew something important would soon happen: two months remained til the attack on Darkhold, stronghold of the Zhentarim. Open warfare between two evil factions would doubtless cause ruin and pain in the world.
|Demonic Raiders: 2638 (level 9 encounter)|
|Maldreth’s Soul: n/a|
|Deal with Bonecrush Clan: n/a|
|Infiltration and Bargaining with Netheril: 250 (level 6 minor quest)|
|Destroyed Zathraxa: 1500 (level 6 major quest)|
|Escaped Shadowfell: 250 (level 6 minor quest)|
|4638xp total, 773xp per person|
|Grand Total XP per character: 10344 (13,000 for 8th)|