When Pythas recklessly throws open the doors to the fortress entrance, the party is nearly overwhelmed by the shadar-kai that are stationed as guards. Using all their skills, and with no small amount of luck, the party emerges from the battle victorious. They pause to catch their breath before continuing on.
Pythas tries to catch his breath.
Pythas (gasping): I think I <cough> forgot to tell them <pant> that the Silver Flame was going to burn them.
When the party has rested up a bit, they are ready to continue on. Having learned his lesson the hard way, Pythas alters his features to look like a shadar-kai as he crosses to the northern door, listening carefully before opening the door to discover the fortress’s barracks. The room appears to be empty at first glance, but another look around allows the party to discover a pair of feeble-looking shadar-kai cowering beneath the beds furthest from the door.
Pythas: You there….what are you doing?
Mikal d’Cannith goes over to them
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Ahhh!
Mikal d’Cannith: Hello.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage covers his eyes and trembles.
Mikal d’Cannith: Listen, we really just want to get the hell home. Where is the portal back to the prime material plane?
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage (uncovering eyes): Then why are you here? Why do you fight us?
Mikal d’Cannith: Self-defense, though we are intruding on your tower. We only came here after Modra.
Dulinamin: We were tricked by Modra into coming here. We don’t know why and now we’re just trying to get home.
Mikal d’Cannith: We were led to believe by several people the only way home was through a portal here in this tower.
Dulinamin (nods): That is forcing us to come through here and we are being attacked at every turn.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Modra? That son of a shadow serpent?! Why do you follow him? Are you allied with him? Sarshan will kill you for this!
Mikal d’Cannith: Noooooo. We were hunting him, and killed him.
Drake Ilvenet: Well, he jumped into a pool of lava, but I’d have certainly pushed him.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Killed him, eh? Hmm, probably better than he deserved, really. Sarshan was looking forward to flaying him alive, you know.
Mikal d’Cannith: Then just to make sure, his body went into the lava to prevent any attempt at resurrection. He did mention something about sabotage, so you might want to get on dealing with that. But we would really, really appreciate being allowed to leave without further combat.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Look, we have no quarrel with you. We are researchers only, not warriors or sorcerers.
Pythas snorts in annoyance
Pythas: Does Sarshan know one of his men is cowering under a bed? What does he do in cases of desertion?
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage glares at Pythas with hatred.
Pythas: I was just wondering. If you help us get home, the boss doesn’t have to know any of this happened after all.
Mikal d’Cannith: Pythas, no reason to be mean about him being aware of your awesome and terrifying capabilities.
Seeing that the shadar-kai is less than impressed with this boast, Mikal attempts to get back on track by informing the scared sage that he is himself an artisan and craftsman. The sage nods enthusiastically.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Aye, I could tell. And I can assure you, if you seek to return to your plane, that skill will be needed. The portal you seek is on the level above. However, due to the tremors, it is currently not operational. You will need to fix it in order to pass through.
Berend Stonekeeper (mumbles to himself): Why does that sound about right?
Mikal d’Cannith: Not a problem for myself I am sure. If you wish to come with us, I am sure that I can find you a wonderful position with my family.
Pythas: Or in the Church of the Silver Flame. They love converts such as yourself.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage looks at Mikal.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Your offer is kind, yet confusing. But I must refuse. I have my own family here, and I fear what Sarshan would do to them were he to find that I had abandoned my research.
Mikal d’Cannith: Ah, understandable. Tough I was led to believe that there would be nothing left due to Modra’s sabotage.
Pythas: Why don’t we just end Sarshan’s reign of terror? Wouldn’t that solve a lot more problems anyway?
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: It might, but I can assure you, you would never get near him. Sarshan is surrounded at all times by many guards. You would die in the attempt.
Drake Ilvenet: Then it’s very good for us we are not planning to attack him.
Mikal d’Cannith: Anyways, are the materials we need upstairs or elsewhere. What about Sarshan? We are hoping to avoid him. Also, if you could, I would be interested in any research you have.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: I’m afraid I can’t provide you with our research. Again, I fear for my family’s safety should Sarshan discover that his secrets have fallen into enemy hands. Now go! The materials you need to fix the portal are in front of the archway.
Drake Ilvenet: And how do we get there from here? Preferably without fighting the rest of the tower’s occupants.
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: You can use the lift in the great hall to bring you up to the next level. The archway is in the room you will emerge into
.Dulinamin: Will there be guards waiting for us at the top?
Cowering Shadar-kai Sage: Not that I am aware.
Drake Ilvenet: Excellent. Let’s make our way out of here then. Also, we very seriously recommend leaving the premises with haste.
Mikal d’Cannith: Right, it was nice to meet you and enjoy what time you have left. Go see your family.
Pythas: Wait, we’re not going to kill him? Seriously?
Dulinamin: Why would we?
Pythas: Oh, I was having flashbacks to military days.
The adventures make their way back to the great hall, and position themselves on the lighter tiles on the floor. Concentrating, they use the magical lift to levitate up through the hole in the ceiling to emerge in another chamber on the upper level. Dim light from globes of gray glass casts faint shadows throughout a dark garden. Though the trees and other foliage here appear healthy and luxurious, the leaves, stems, and flowers of these plants are sickly shades of dark blue, gray, and black. Along the south wall of this chamber stands a stone arch identical to the teleportation portals they’ve seen before. While the other stand guard against ambush, Mikal and Drake inspect the portal, trying to ascertain how to restore its function.
Drake Ilvenet: Hmm, it appears we can set the portal to allow only certain races to pass through.
Berend Stonekeeper: That could be useful.
Dulinamin (tinkering): Hmm, interesting. I made some adjustments here that should allow us to pass easily once the portal comes active.
As Mikal relates to the other that he’s determined that there are several crystals missing from the face of the archway, which is likely the cause of the portal’s malfunction, Pythas points out a mound of leaves nearby that gives him concern. A hissing sound precedes a cloud of insects suddenly boiling up from the shadows, swarming to attack. At the same time, wthe mass of mottled leaves Pythas mentioned rises up to reveal itself as an enormous beetle, which has viscous black fluid dripping from its joints as it lurches toward them.
The party leaves off from their work of repairing the portal to deal with this new threat. The swarms of rot scarabs claw and bite, while the beetle attempt to maul the adventurers in its jaws. Using area attacks to keep the bulk of the swarms at bay, the party focuses on the larger beetle, and quickly kills the beast. A short while later, the last of the swarms is dealt with, sending any stragglers back to their holes. However, before they can even catch their breath, a sudden shout comes from below. Through the open floor, they see shadar-kai guards coming through the main doors. With a curse, Mikal quickly dashes to the portal to continue his work, as the other search around for unbroken crystals. In one of the adjoining chambers, Dulinamin find a small box filled with undamaged crystals, and races back to Mikal with them. Before the crystals can be added to the portal, however, six shadar-kai hit the levitation lift, and footsteps in the distance herald groups of four coming through the doors of each of the towers. The squad that comes up from below is led by a grizzled captain, who has ritual scars standing out on his cheeks. Two panthers move at his side with teeth bared as they hiss.
Shadar-kai Captain: Stand down or your lives are forfeit!
Mikal d’Cannith: Let us go home, you have bigger problems them us leaving.
Drake Ilvenet: Yes, one would think you’d be trying to stop the forge from exploding
Shardar-kai Captain: I will not say it again. Stand down, or you will be killed where you stand!
Behind the captain, several more shadar-kai appear on the lift, swelling the ranks of the opposition. Meanwhile, Pythas is still in his shadar-kai disguise, and attempts to bluff his way out of the situation.
Pythas: Stand down, maggots! Or you’ll be cleaning latrines for a decade!
Shardar-kai Captain (sneers): Just who do you think you’re trying to fool… changling?
Dulinamin: We know what Mordra did in the foundry. Let us finish and let us leave. We will tell you what he did, and where. Perhaps you can save this outpost still.
Pythas (resuming normal guise): We’re trying to prevent your precious tower from detonating after that mess Mordra pulled. Like the sorcerer said.
Shardar-kai Captain: We saw the aftermath of your confrontations in the Foundry. In fact, it is because of this that you have not yet been killed. Sarshan wishes to speak with you.
Mikal d’Cannith (eyebrows raised): That is much different than what you first stated.
Berend Stonekeeper: Well where is he?
As if in answer, the garden is suddenly illuminated by a pulse of white light. The portal flares to life as it reveals the black shrine, and a familiar figure steps from that chamber into the garden. It’s the veteran they met in the Happy Beggar, but he is no longer stooped with the appearance of age and his scarred skin turns gray before their eyes. The guards around the adventurers salute the shadar-kai, who doesn’t hide his surprise at seeing them. He takes in the scene before him with a cold eye.
Pythas: Well, I should have suspected as much.
Sarshan: I am Sarshan. I assume someone has an explanation for this?
Mikal d’Cannith: Yeah, hmmm. We followed Modra here. Found him. Killed him. He said he sabotaged your operation here critically and we are trying to get out of here before the big boom he mentioned happens.
Sarshan glares at Mikal, the look on his face warning him to hold your tongue.
Sarshan: Thannu? Explain!
Shardar-kai Captain steps forward.
Thannu: Sir! These are the ones that infiltrated the tower through the Dark Foundry. They claim that the remains we found there are from their confrontation with Modra.
Sarshan (nods): Go on, Thannu.
Thannu: Yes, sir. As I said, they invaded the tower through your personal tunnel, and have killed all but the mongrel gnolls in the guest quarters on the first level. We have lost many fine warriors today, Sarshan, and I would see them punished!
Even as the captain finishes, a warrior enters at a run, calling to his master. As he approaches to whisper in Sarshan’s ear, the shadar-kai turns to the party with a look of wonder.
Sarshan: You are quite literally the last people I ever expected to see here. The charges my captain levels against you warrant torture and death. Yet it would seem that the sabotage in my foundry was not complete, that perhaps, just perhaps, you kept Modra from doing any further damage than he did. What do you have to say for yourselves?
Berend Stonekeeper: You are right in that we are the ones who put an end to Modra, and perhaps his attempted sabotage.
Mikal d’Cannith: Can we talk about this somewhere safer, which hopefully wont be exploding anytime soon.
Sarshan: I can assure you, we are quite safe here. The warrior you just saw a moment ago came to inform me that the pressure build up in the lava tubes has been released, and the foundry’s functions are returning to normal.
Dulinamin: We came here for Modra, apparently possibly saving your foundry as a result. We had no wish to fight your soldiers but they attacked without mercy. All we want is to go back to our plane.
Sarshan: As far as you’ve managed to infiltrate my operations, I can only assume you know a little of who I am. My wealth and reputation turn largely on honor, obligation, and secrecy. When I spoke to you of Modra, I hoped you would kill him and save me the risk of more exposure than he had already caused. The fact that you journeyed here to do the job is a surprise, but for your part in ending his threat to me and whatever he meant to do in the foundry, I am in your debt. However, for your role in the death of my personal guards, you are more greatly in mine. Here is a bargain that balances the obligation for all of us. Join me.
Mikal d’Cannith: While interested, I’m not sure I can, due to previous obligations.
Sarshan: Your skill at arms is clearly first rate. I offer you a place to use and advance that skill. Moreover, I offer you a place where you might live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your bravery. In a month, or six, or a year, your world will be a place you will not want to live. Join me here instead.
Berend Stonekeeper: On one thing you are correct. Our skills are first rate.
Drake Ilvenet: Well I do enjoy living.
Sarshan (to Drake): You I do not know, but you stand in good company. My offer stands for you as well, eladrin
Dulinamin: I already have a mistress and know of no way to forsake the link that binds me to her. The best I could do, is promise to stay until my mistress recalls me.
Drake Ilvenet: Okay, so what would it entail if agreed to your offer?
Pythas: Look, Srashamasamason, Leave my friends out of this. Let them go, you can kill me as a sacrifice. As a priestess of the Silver Flame, I can’t abide your offer.
Pythas reverts to Py, changeling of the Silver Flame, and steps forward, hands exposed.
Sarshan nods sadly.
Sarshan: I understand. However, I have no need of sacrifices. Either you agree to my terms… ALL of you… or you refuse. The choice is yours. But I do not have all day. Choose now.
Berend Stonekeeper: And we would remain as a team?
Drake Ilvenet: I for one vote for joining the winning side.
Berend Stonekeeper: I don’t see any other choice
Dulinamin: As long as you can accept that an other’s call could take me away, we will join with you. I don’t know when or if she may call, but I will have no way to refuse. Is this acceptable? I don’t believe the others have this stipulation.
Sarshan: Wise choice. Thannu, take the new recruits to the barracks, and gear them appropriately. I need to see to the movement of troops. I will speak with you later.
Thannu snaps to attention.
Thannu: Yes sir!
Sarshan favors the party with a final glare, then joins the warriors remaining on the lift. The shadar-kai warriors and their leader descend to the lower level. Thannu watches as Sarshan and the other guards leave the tower through the front door before turning back to the adventurers.
Thannu: You may have fooled Sarshan, but you do not fool me.
Berend Stonekeeper: Never intended to. Shall we dance?
Thannu: I will kill you all for the deaths you have caused today.
Drake Ilvenet: You can try.
Dulinamin: I think you’re just going to add to our “debt” to Sarshan.
The enraged captain attacks, his panthers joining in the fray. The party manages ot keep the shadar-kai at a distance, though not without catching their own share of wounds. As the others hold off their attackers, Mikal manages to add the remaining crystals to the archway, and the portal flares to life. At the same time, a violent tremor shakes the ground.
Drake Ilvenet: Let’s get out of here!
Mikal d’Cannith: GO!
Mikal grabs a couple of vials from his pack.
Py: Don’t stay behind.
Mikal d’Cannith: I’m only leaving a present!
Mikal d’Cannith tosses 2 Alchemists fire in the air as he steps backward into the portal.
Mikal d’Cannith: Bye!
The vials of alchemist’s fire smash to the ground, igniting and catching the panthers and their master in the blast. Another tremor shakes the ground, felt even within the confines of the black shrine, and the adventurers struggle to keep their footing. Seeing that the party has escaped through the portal, he orders the remaining panther to follow as he retreats to the lift and descends to the lower level. However, due to the precautions taken during their repairs, the panther is unable to pass through, and comically slams head first into the portal’s surface.
Berend Stonekeeper: Phew, had me quite worried there for a second. Thanks for the save, Drake.
Drake Ilvenet: Of course, anything for my rescuers. But now, how do we deal with these portals?
Mikal d’Cannith: Hmmm. You need a specific ritual to do that. Best stopgap would be to fill it in.
The way home lies through the portal in the center of the room. All that remains is to activate it with the brass key. Just then, a skittering fall of rock down the rift gives a split-second’s warning of another tremor, bigger this time. The cavern pitches around them—a crack like thunder echoing as the northern wall splits and heaves. And with a groan, the archway they just passed through crumbles and falls as a blast of arcane energy slams out across the chamber. Where it strikes the Shadowfell archway, a flare of black erupts from the stone, congealing into six wraiths, which immediately attack!
Having dealt with wraiths several times already, the party is no stranger to the creatures’ attacks, so are able to make quick work of the foul undead. As another tremor threatens to collapse the chamber around them, Mikal shoves the brass key into the face of the portal, activating the way home. Within seconds of the last adventurer passing through, the walls of the black shrine collapse. With a flash of arcane light, the portal disappears, leaving the archway empty and inactive.
Py: Cutting it a little close there.
Drake Ilvenet shakes his head and sighs.
Drake Ilvenet: I’ll give you fellows this, that certainly wasn’t boring.
A dim light illuminates the dark room.
Prashant: Who’s there, now?
Ausma: Don’t make us call the Watch, see!
Mikal d’Cannith: Please don’t. I don’t want to deal with the hassle of explaining all this for hours on end.
Berend Stonekeeper: It would be a long tale for sure.
Drake Ilvenet: But how will we make the women swoon over our heroic deeds if we don’t tell anyone, though?
Mikal d’Cannith glares at Drake.
Drake Ilvenet puts up his hands as the proprietors of the Happy Beggar almshouse, Prashant and Ausma, emerge into the chamber holding a lantern aloft.
Prashant: Oy, I know you lot! You was just in here day ago, wasn’t it? What are you doing in my basement?
Ausma (looks around): This is hardly the basement, Prash. Unless you expanded it without me knowing.
Mikal d’Cannith: Just seal this room and we’ll be back later to deal with it.
Mikal d’Cannith starts to leave.
Prashant looks around at the room, then gasps aloud.
Mikal d’Cannith ignores him and keeps going.
Prashant: Host preserve us! This chamber! I do believe it was once a shrine to the Dark Six!
Py: Oh that bunch of dicks.
Prashant: Come, dear. We won’t be staying here one moment longer. Let’s go.
Berend Stonekeeper: Yes you will probably want to do something about that.
The party follows Prashant and Ausma back up to the Happy Beggar almshouse main room, where Ausma busies herself fetching them all some tea. Over tea, the adventurers relate their tale to Prashant and Ausma, who seem shocked to discover that a sinister business was going on right under their noses.
Prashant: So the portal to the Shadowfell? Is it still active?
Drake Ilvenet: Well it’s buried by 10 tons of rubble on the other side, so it’s probably a bit difficult to use at the moment.
Prashant (nods): Well, I suppose that’s good, at least. Still, I think you’ll be wanting to inform the Council of the activities of this Sarshan fellow. If he’s been using any of the warehouses in Outlook for his operations, they’ll want to ferret them out and destroy them.
Mikal d’Cannith: Seize them, not destroy them.
Prashant (shrugs): Whatever. Either way, you let them know. You’ve done this city a favor ending that creature’s foul activities, that I can tell you for sure.
Drake Ilvenet: End might be a strong word. Delayed seems more apt.
Ausma: Aye, Prashant’s right. But you all look a fright, and you must be exhausted. It’s not much, but we have some small rooms you’re welcome to use, if you wish.
Berend Stonekeeper: I could use a good long rest that’s for sure.
Drake Ilvenet yawns
Mikal d’Cannith: Just get us a taxi or cart or some such. I want a nice hot bath before I sleep.
Ausma: That can be arranged, young man. Come now, you follow ol’ Ausma. She’ll get you fixed up. Come on now.
Ausma hurries off toward the back rooms, fussing the whole way.