Having bested the attacking wraiths, the party pauses to take stock of their situation, particularly what to do about Modra, who has escaped through the portal. Seeing as the dark creeper has already set his sights on their deaths, allowing him to remain free to try and kill them again is not an option.
Drake Ilvenet: Well, that could have gone better.
Berend Stonekeeper: On the bright side we are all still alive… right?
Drake Ilvenet: So far, can’t complain about that. So who was that little… thing? It seemed you all knew it in some respect.
Pythas: We should probably go after it.
Mikal d’Cannith: A troublesome little shit, who apparently wanted this key. Which I tried to leave for him until an idiot took it and we actually did end up with this stupid key after I made a fake to leave them.
Berend Stonekeeper: That’s one way to put it.
Drake Ilvenet: Hmm, well he sounds like a fine… thing. I’ve known him for all of 5 minutes and I already don’t like him.
Berend Stonekeeper: Well we haven’t actually MET him, but we’ve been looking for him.
Drake Ilvenet: Hmmm. Interesting. Well, I’ll say you gentlemen don’t live boring lives.
Drake Ilvenet (smiles):That suits me just fine. So I assume this key you have is not unlike the one Modra used for that portal over there?
Berend Stonekeeper: I’m guessing so. Mikal seems to have both keys right now, so it’s up to him if he wants to try it. I think we should go after Modra, though, before he reaches his base of power.
Drake Ilvenet: Well, I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but I would be inclined to agree about going after him. He seems like a consummate trouble maker.
Mikal d’Cannith: Alright, let me take a quick look at this portal.
While Mikal examines the portal to ascertain how it functions, the rest of the party takes the time to prepare to cross through by healing and readying weapons. Not knowing what dangers await them once through the portal, the stronger members of the party line up to enter first. After a few moments, Mikal is able to determine that the portal is attuned to the brass key in his possession. Once used, the portal will allow the user and up to at least five others to cross through, after which the portal closes to all others. Once everyone is ready, Mikal activates the portal, and the party dashes through…
…and emerges in a room that is the mirror opposite of the room they just left. Instead of the white marble of the previous room, the ceiling, walls, and floor of this chamber are jet black marble. What was a pile of fallen debris is a deep rift in the floor here. The door and arches from the other room have shifted position, as well. The effect is disorienting. Fortunately, it appears the room is deserted. However, the presence of a burning brazier and some overturned stools would seem to indicate that the chamber was very recently occupied.
Drake Ilvenet: Well… did not expect this.
Berend Stonekeeper: Looks like he’s gathering his forces, or abandoning this dump.
Mikal d’Cannith (quietly): Hmmm. Careful, there’s tracks of others here, though it looks like the little shit got captured.
Drake Ilvenet (whispers): well let’s go “liberate” him
Berend Stonekeeper: Aye! Liberation it is!
Mikal d’Cannith (to Berend): Why?
Berend Stonekeeper: Why? Because we need to know what he’s up to in our little neck of the caves.
Drake Ilvenet (whispers): Any idea on the direction?
Pythas (points at the lone door to the north): The door?
The door to the north stands wide open, leading into a hallway which bends away at a sharp angle about fifty feet in. The walls within the hallway are lit with a dull, red light. Pythas slips quietly into the hallway, making his way toward the red glow, realizing as he goes that this hallway stands where the party encountered the first dark creepers after entering the caverns beneath the Happy Beggar. After a few moments, Pythas’s awestruck voice calls back for the others to join him. The party reaches the end of the hallway and marvels at the sight before them.
The land is like nothing they’ve ever seen before. A wide plain of gray-green grass and stunted black trees spreads beneath a sky scoured by fast-moving clouds. The sun is bright above but somehow doesn’t cut the darkness that drapes every rock and every blade of grass in gray gloom. This is the Shadowfell.
From the mouth of the cavern, a wide and well-traveled road runs in a curving line to the north. There, perhaps a quarter-mile away, a military camp spreads. Buildings are scattered here and there, with tents and pavilions spreading between them. Torches and fires burn brightly against the ever-present shadow, and lone trees and tall stands of graygreen grass are whipped by a hissing wind.
Looming above it all, a rise of black rock to the west is rent by a seething volcanic rift. Black-streaked lava courses from it to descend into a narrow channel, and a permanent pall of glowing red-black smoke rises above it. Over this molten flow, a great stone bridge is arched. This wide eastwest road meets the road north from the cavern. North of the bridge, a tall tower stands and a lower building spreads in its shadow.
Mikal d’Cannith: We’re not on the prime material plane anymore, we are in… the Shadowfell! What do you think of your first extraplanar trip, boys and girls? Isn’t it wonderful. Look at the lava and all the things that want to kill us.
Drake Ilvenet (nervously): I really much prefer the Fey. Less lava and no aura of impending doom
Berend Stonekeeper: Interesting place to visit, but I definitely wouldn’t want to get trapped here.
Mikal d’Cannith (points at castle in distance): And over there is no doubt the less than friendly local warlord and tyrant.
Drake Ilvenet: I don’t suppose it’s too much to hope they just took him to one of those dimly lit huts is it?
Berend Stonekeeper: That would just be silly of them wouldn’t it
Pythas )to Drake): You must be new to this adventuring hero thing.
Drake Ilvenet (sighs): I prefer to think of myself as optimistic. So off to the imposing tower likely filled with death?
Dulinamin: I say we approach carefully, check this place out and then decide what to do next. If this place is at all like a city we would be accustomed to, with people going about their lives, then we can probably get some information about this place.
Drake Ilvenet: Indeed, though I worry we might stand out somewhat.
Berend Stonekeeper: Which way does the trail lead?
Mikal d’Cannith: Just a minute.
Mikal disappears back into the caves, returning to the room with the portal. A quick inspection of the archway confirms his suspicions, and he returns to the party.
Mikal d’Cannith: Right, we also need to find a way back, cause we ain’t using that one.
Pythas: You shorted out the magic, didn’t you?
Drake Ilvenet: A pity, but not entirely unexpected.
Realizing their only option is to move forward, the party starts off down the trail toward the war camp in the distance. As they travel, they decide their best chance at blending in is to appear as mercenaries. This realization saves them a heap of trouble when a pair of dark creeper sentries step from the tall grasses that concealed them and confronts the party.
Dark Creeper Sentry: All mercenaries stay within the borders of the camps! Next time you go wandering, you get shot, sellswords!
Drake Ilvenet: Sagely advice.
Pythas: We’re here to visit the slave bazaar and markets.
Mikal d’Cannith nods in agreement.
Dark Creeper Sentry: Oh, you lot must be one of Sarshan’s clients. Best be quick about it, then. You don’t wanna be caught out here by less understanding folks than us, see? Some of my freinds… well, let’s say they are likely to shoot first, and ask questions of your corpse.
The dark creeper and his companion snort with laughter at this comment.
Mikal d’Cannith: Thank you for the advice, we shall be more cautious.
Dark Creeper Sentry: See that y’are. Now move it along! We ain’t got time t’be jawing with the likes of you lot all day!
The party continues toward the camp as the sentries melt back into the grasses. They approach the frontier of the mercenary camps unchallenged, and a virtual city spreads out before them. Beneath patched canvas tents stand open-air taverns, market stalls, apothecaries and herbalists, weaponsmiths and armorers, butchers and greengrocers—all doing roaring trade.
Training grounds open up between the various camps, and soldiers of different races clash against each other with sword and shield. In the quieter corners, combat casters can be seen training—the flare of arcane fire dancing between them. The party is surprised to note that these are not Shadowfell mercenaries for the most part. Though shadar-kai and dark ones are well represented, the fields and camps are packed with orcs and hobgoblins, ogres and trolls, lizardfolk and kobolds and a dozen other monstrous races, most found within the borders of Droaam.
Dulinamin: This is a strange collection of creatures.
Drake Ilvenet: Yes, I suppose it’s the Shadowfell equivalent to cosmopolitan.
Berend Stonekeeper: Aye. Odd that there are so few of the Shadowfell kind here.
Mikal d’Cannith: Looks more like a warcamp than a city I would think.
A sudden rumble beneath their feet startles the party into silence as they turn their gaze toward the nearby volcano. However, as quickly as it started, the tremor ceases.
Mikal d’Cannith (nervously): So where to first?
Dulinamin: Maybe the locals are up to something that they don’t want to waste their own lives on.
Berend Stonekeeper: I’m wondering who this Sarshan person is, and what he is doing with all this.
Pythas: I’m noticing a distinct lack of obsidian obelisks and monoliths. I thought there would definately be more obelisks and monoliths in a Shadowfell city. Or statues of murderous angels
Berend Stonekeeper: Well maybe its not your ordinary shadowfell city
Mikal d’Cannith (sighs): This is the dark shadow, not one of the hells.
The adventurers enter the makeshift town at the southern edge and cautiously move down the road past the mercenary tents. Oddly enough, their presense does not seem to raise any suspicion. The nearby creatures stare curiously at the party as they pass, but return to their tasks without incident.
Drake Ilvenet: Well, so far, so good!
Berend Stonekeeper: It seems that visitors are not that unusual here.
Feeling a touch more confident that trouble is not looming over their heads, they continue on down the road, eventually reaching the stone bridge that crosses over the river of lava. The heat off the river is intense, and sweat quickly builds and runs down their faces. Dulinamin can’t resist tossing a copper piece in the river of lava, which dissolves instantly.
Knowing that Modra could be anywhere at this point, the adventures decide to begin making inquiries as to his whereabouts, as well as to who this Sarshan might be. Though the merchants and other mercenaries seem reticent to divulge much to the strangers, they are able to provide some valuable information. For starters, the camp they are not in is relatively new, as if it was thrown hastily together in preparation for some future conflict. The party’s first solid lead regarding Sarshan is discovered near the slave bazaar, where a chatty merchant offers a warning.
Dark Creeper Slaver: Sarshan, eh? Sarshan is shadar-kai, an outcast who made a name for himself as the leader of a legendary mercenary band known as the Black Arrow. At their height, the Arrow put so much fear in generals and kings alike that Sarshan would take payment to fight for one group, then take a bigger payment from their foe to stand down. My advise? Don’t cross ‘im. You won’t survive the attempt, heh heh.
Knowing that sometimes information can be gleaned form sparring troops, they make their way towards one of the several training grounds in the makeshift city. This almost proves to be their undoing as they find themselves surrounded by a mob of hulking ogres, one leading an enormous beetle on a leash. In broken Common, the largest shouts out to the adventurers.
Ogre: You mercenaries? You think you good enough to fight alongside Bonecruncher clan? Think again!
Berend Stonekeeper Draws his hammer.
Berend Stonekeeper: You REALLY want to go?! Let’s do it!
The ogres roar and charge in to attack, as their companions surround them and shout insults at the party. However, the attacking ogres are in sore need of further training, as their attacks are sloppy at best. Their hulking size makes it easy for the adventurers to slip beneath the ogres lumbering attacks, avoiding their blows as they score wound after wound. Before long, the ogres lay bleeding on the ground. Surprisingly, the other ogres simply grumble their disgust at the fight’s outcome before returning to their own sparring and other tasks. In a fit of pique, Berend challenges a nearby hobgoblin to a sparring match. As they fight, Berend asks about Modra. Something in Berend’s tone makes the hobgoblin flinch, and he tells Berend that Modra is long gone from Umbraforge and the Shadowfell. It would seem that Modra has done something that as made this Sarshan extremely angry, and that Modra would be a fool to return.
Curious about the foundry building near the front of the looming tower, the party makes their way over to discover that the foundry’s gates are guarded by scores of shadar-kai guards. Dulinamin pours on the charm, and tries to coerce a private tour of the facility. Charming though he may be, the guards aren’t falling for it.
Shadar-kai Gate Guard: Well, I can’t let you in, see? Orders, you understand. I can tell ya this, though. This foundry is the jewel of Sarshan’s operations. Its power comes from the fire and shadow driving its furnaces. Sarshan’s sages create beasts of battle in there, born killers with magic in their blood. I can tell you this for damned sure… you don’t want to have to face one of them beasts in battle.
Dulinamin: Sounds impressive. I hope I get a chance to see those beasts someday, safely restrained of course.
As they stroll through the market tents, they keep an ear out for any pertinent information. They overheard some shadar-kai talking about Sarshan, who apparently holds dominion over this area known as the Umbraforge. The tower, foundry, and forges all belong to him. Sarshan sells the services of the mercenaries and slaves in this camp across the Shadowfell AND the world. Curious about this new information, Berend attempts to illicit further information, only to draw suspicion from a nearby dark creeper.
Dark Creeper: You ask an awful lot of questions, stranger. If I didn’t know better, I might think you was a spy.
Berend Stonekeeper: Ummmm. Not a spy, just curious. Thought we might be going to war soon, just tired of sitting around here. I’ll be going now.
Dark Creeper: Get the hells out of here before I have you drawn and quartered.
Though attempting to see inside the larger foundry building was fruitless, the party decides to see if they possibly could see inside one of the smaller foundry buildings. However, the result is the same, and they are refused entry. The shadar-kai guard is a chatty sort, though, and spills some interesting information.
Shadar-kai Gate Guard: You know that guy, Modra?
Dulinamin: I’m familiar with him. Why?
Shadar-kai Gate Guard: ‘Course you are, everyone knows Modra. Modra’s well-known in Umbraforge, but for all the wrong reasons now. He was one of Sarshan’s most trusted lieutenants not long ago. But the foolish creeper tried to broker a weapons deal that Sarshan had already turned down. Needless to say, Sarshan is out for blood. Way he sees it, his reputation’s been tarnished, and only Modra’s head on a spike will appease him, now.