The Scales of War Only the Beginning

Pausing for a brief rest after emerging from a teleportation circle in a small room atop the tower, Sideon’s Army took stock of their surroundings. Through a great pair of double doors, the companions could hear the sounds of shouted orders, a chorous of responses, a deep humming and the drumbeat of thousands of booted feet pounding the stone of the plateau. Cracking the door open, the friends could see a the tail end of a mercenary army made up of many mortal races, marching through a massive portal inscribed in the ground of the plateau. Between the doors and the portal stood four beings – two of them strange warriors Orpheus and Adrik identified as githyanki. The third appeared similar, but rotting flesh hung from dessicated bones strapped into iron-jointed leather armor. The undead githyanki sat astride the fourth figure – a massive undead dragon, also with bits of decaying flesh and bone evident across its taught hide.

Glancing above the PCs, the unliving githyanki hissed, “It appears your ‘problem’ has followed you even here. Deal with it, or never fall under my eyes again, lest you suffer my wrath.”

Echoing from above, the party heard the unmistakeable voice of Sarshan echo, “It shall be as you say, General Zithiruun. They will not leave this place alive.”

Gesturing two the other githyanki, the nightmarish creature tightened his grip on his steed and lifted off, disappearing into the active portal. While the companions dealt with the githyanki, Sarshan resumed chanting, and as the two warriors fell, the portal energies died down. Sarshan himself leapt down at the party. Splitting into three exact images, the shadar-kai lanced into the Army, launching devastating weapon attacks and bursts of chaos-infused energy. A grueling battle ensued as the tower began to ooze magma and the plateau was gripped by increasingly powerful tremors. Two of Sarshan’s images were defeated as Orpheus rushed to the roof of the tower to attempt to open the massive portal. In a burst of blood chaos, Sarshan transformed into a massive chaos beast, continuing to punish the friends. However, for all his power, not even the blood-chaos infused shadar kai could withstand the might of Sideon’s Army, and the mercenary fell in a fiery burst.

With Megan Swiftblade’s stories of invading mercenaries confirmed and the identity of Sarshan’s employer revealed, the friends quickly activated the portal and returned to the mortal realm, Djamela’s tower crumbling behind them. The party set out for Overlook right away, hoping to head off disaster. The night before their arrival in Overlook, Laric received an urgent sending from Durak Zail, High Priest of Avandra in Overlook, warning of a growing danger in the dwarven city. Sideon’s Army arrived to find the town’s populace engaged in preparations for war. While Orpheus searched through Sideon’s office at the Mountain’s Hearth, Laric ventured to the Nine Bells and the temple of Avandra therein to seek out Durak Zail and investigated the danger.

At the temple, Durak thanked Laric, and explained his concerns. A fellow priestess of Avandra had vanished – Lavinya, caretaker for the shrine in Tradetown. At the same time, inquiries to other priests in Overlook revealed strange changes in his fellow members of the cloth – Declan Deephammer of Moradin, Aelys of Bahamut, Kyrrist of Erathis and Matron Volorvyn of the Raven Queen. While not overtly hostile or threatening, they were distant and uncaring. Strange, he noted, for even those clergymen Durak had not counted among his friends were at least respected colleagues. A strange priest named Grovald had appeared and took over at the shrine, saying Lavinya had asked him to look after it while she went on a ‘spiritual retreat’. Durak implored Laric to look into the disappearance and the strange behavior of the other priests. He had no further information or leads to impart, but suggested the friends investigate the shrine or even try the other priests again. With an impending assault and a new mystery, the companions knew that they would have to move quickly to avert a disaster…

The Chaotic Ooze

Sideon’s Army, rested and re-supplied, wasted little time in making their way to the little village of Talar, a short distance away from Brindol. Once there, they went to the Green Dragon Inn as instructed to await the arrival of Megan Swiftblade. Inside, they met Adrik, a dwarven invoker of Ioun, who had been asked to aid Megan Swiftblade as well. However, not long after their arrival, a massive quake struck the town, decimating the Inn. The friends were able to evacuate the Green Dragon, but were greeted by an even worse sight: a flow of strange, viscous fluid, almost like lava, poured from the base of a tower atop a nearby hill, decimating the small village as its people fled the carnage. Worse, strange animates made of the ooze rose up to attack the party, including one massive, formless ooze threatening a trapped female villager who was heavy with child. Despite their power, even the strange ooze monsters proved no match for the companion’s strength, and the innocent was saved from the oncoming flow.

After the battle, the ground shook as another tremor rocked the small village. As the Army looked on, the tower atop the hill began to sink inexorably into the ground. Two figures appeared atop the roof, one the party recognized as Megan Swiftblade, and the other a young human male dressed in apprentice’s attire. Approaching the sinking tower, it became apparent that Swiftblade had been injured. She relayed that the Freeriders discovered that Sarshan was working with an unknown group that planned an invasion of the entire Elsir Vale, and Overlook was to be their first target. The Freeriders had been targeted by repeated attacks and ambushes, no doubt arranged to prevent a warning from reaching Overlook. Reluctantly, Megan relayed, the Freeriders split up in the hopes of dividing their attackers so that one of them might make it to Overlook in time to warn of the impending siege. She implored the heroes to descend into the tower to rescue her friend and mentor, Falrinth.

Recognizing the name of the sage who the Army had rescued from the gnolls in Fortress Graystone, Muhlic and Atreus descended into the now-buried tower. They discovered Falrith in the lowest level of the ruined tower, where he took shelter when the earth began to shake. From there, the two warriors could hear chanting in an unknown subterranean cavern beneath the hill. Gathering the party, they descended into the caverns, discovering the source of the ooze – two massive pipes set into a rough-hewn wall, pouring out the fiery liquid at a frightening rate. The Army also encountered a group of well-armed, well trained humanoid mercenaries of various monstrous races – orc, gnoll and goblinoid, among others – led by a shadar-kai warrior and witch duo, who continued to chant a ritual over a portal circle in the ground. Easily defeating their foes, the companions managed to shut down the magical portal, which seemed to be transporting the ooze in from some remote location.

Orpheus discovered a ritual book on the dead witch that contained a few minor rituals and the coordinates for a portal link to a location he did not recognize. The threat stalled for the moment, the group paused to rest, recuperate, and gather information on the strange series events in which they now found themselves embroiled…

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Of Death, Rebirth and Assassins

Deep in the recesses of Fortress Graystone, Fangren, shaman to the Wicked Fang, howled in triumph as the portal to the realm of Yeenoghu burst to full life before him. Moaning wretches, once peaceful inhabitants of the Elsir Vale now twisted by the awful power of the Elemental Chaos, bore witness to the gnoll’s glee as the power radiated into the chamber from the plane below. Demonic servants and gnollish adepts joined Fangren’s cry…just as Sideon’s Army burst through the door of the ritual chamber.

The companions charged into the ritual chamber, only to be met by the fury of Fangren’s servants. Many were the acts of bravery and heroism in that chamber; Stump’s stubborn refusal to give up, the mighty bow of Atreus, the healing powers of Laric, the arcane skill of Orpheus and the deadly axe of Muhlic eventually proved too much for Fangren and his hellish minions.

With the Wicked Fang vanquished and the energy channel to Yeenoghu’s realm closed, Amyria lead Orpheus through the that restored her to her normal form – that of a deva. She seemed to have little knowledge of whom she was or how she had come to be trapped in the sword, but she knew she had purpose. The party sealed the portal and discovered a strange journal in the hands of the dead gnoll shaman. Inside the journal were entries written in two hands – one of which appeared to be that of Sarshan. Two entries of note alluded to the shadar-kai’s aid and instruction in holding the portal in Fortress Graystone and an imminent attack on all of the Elsir Vale!

Amyria returned to Brindol with the friends, and once there wandered off in search of the destiny she did not yet know. For Sideon’s Army, the path was much clearer. On their return, they were notified that Captain Thelin Handsbane sought their aid. After resting and shopping, the friends sought out the Captain and learned that Megan Swiftblade had sent a missive to Brindol requesting an escort to Overlook.

Apparently Swiftblade, leader of the Freeriders, had learned of an imminent attack on Overlook. Since acquiring that knowledge, the Freeriders have been the target of numerous assassination attempts. Splitting up in an effort to ensure that someone got the details to the Council of Elders in Overlook, Megan found her every move dogged and sent word to ask for aid to fend off the assassins. Any aid that could be spared should ask after her at the Green Dragon Inn in the village of Talar, a short distance away from Brindol.

Given the dire news and how it aligned with what they learned from Fangren’s journal, Sideon’s Army decided to aid Swiftblade and learn what they could…

Into Fortress Graystone

Deep in the bowels of Fortress Graystone, Sideon’s Army encountered a group of gnolls in strangely shaped corner of the ancient monastery. After a short, brutal fight, Sideon’s Army explored what appeared to be the former githzerai inhabitant’s sleeping quarters. The gnolls appeared to be using it as a temporary jail, although the cell doors were unlocked and the key found on the gnoll leader did not fit the lock. Inside the three cells were humans who were alive but somewhat the worse for their captivity. They confirmed that they had been taken by the gnolls in a raid on a nearby village named Talar.

One, a sage named Falrinth, knew of the portal at the center of the fortress, and suggested that the monastery had originally been built by the githzerai to protect it. However, the githzerai vanished, and the monastery lay open to opportunistic evil. He also explained that the entire Elsir Vale was pockmarked with portals to other planes, and that such portals were dangerous in that, if discovered, they would be coveted by many powerful forces in the multiverse.

No sooner had the companions become settled in to rest and lick their wounds in the chamber than the elf mercenary, Thorn, unleashed an ambush. Revealing his true colors, he attacked with two each magically animated hounds and falcons. Depleted as the party was, Thorn gave the friends no small trouble until finally, with his minions dispatched, Thorn yielded to Orpheus’ demand for surrender.

In exchange for his life and freedom, he offered, Thorn would give his knowledge of the Fortress and its secret passages. He relinquished his belongings and drew the party a map. Before he could leave, however, Muhlic attacked, fearing another ambush. Bound by his word, Orpheus intervened, and a fight broke out. Thorn rushed to leave, and Stump tackled him with a yell. Stump’s cry alerted the inhabitants of the Fortress, and gnolls began to pour out on the attack. The party managed to escape, but Thorn made good his departure and Sideon’s Army was forced to retreat and regroup for the night.

Arriving back at the former monastery in the morning, the Army discovered that reinforcements had been brought in to replace the slain gnolls. Fighting their way inside again, the companions made the central marshalling point and defeated the gnoll warmaster and a shadar-kai weapons master. Searching the room, the party discovered that the shadar-kai was present at the behest of Sarshan to train the gnolls, who were being paid to raid and disrupt the eastern end of the Elsir Vale. The warmaster had a key and a jagged blade bearing the same insignia as the ring found on the body of Queen Shephatiah in the mines of Karak. Beyond, Fangren, the leader of the Wicked Fang, continued his rituals to channel the power of Yeenoghu that he may become an exarch of the foul demon-god and bring unbridled slaughter to the innocents of the Elsir Vale. Only Sideon’s Army stood in his way.

The Price of Fame

Without delay, Sideon’s Army began its investigation into the mystery of the missing messenger. Through a combination of forensic examination, witness interrogation, pilfered notes and jilted informants, the party discovered that the Lost Ones, under the orders of a man named Szagyn, had kidnapped the messenger from Brindol. The trail of evidence led to an abandoned temple of Pelor in the Nine Bells section of Overlook.

On the way to the temple, the companions encountered a heavily armed elf going by the name of Thorn, who warned the party of an ambush, and told the PCs of a hefty price on their head that the Lost Ones were hoping to collect. Ambush or no, the Lost Ones were no match for the friends, who handily dispatched the Lost Ones, captured their leader and rescued the messenger from Brindol.

The messenger turned out to be Alys, the daughter of Brindol’s Guard Captain, Thelin Handsbane. Sertanin, castellan of the Hall of Great Valor and former prisoner of the Red Hand, had a dire need of the friends’ aid. The party wasted little time in responding to the castellan’s need, traveling overland to aid the dwarves in investigating rumors of abductions in the north of the Vale. The Army heard many tales of gnollish attacks and saw the gruesome results, but no raiders crossed their path.

Arriving in Brindol, the party soon learned that the platinum sword recovered from the catacombs of Rivenroar had begun to speak in a woman’s voice. Identifying itself as Amyria, the sword implored the party to carry the sword to a secret githzerai monastery known as Fortress Graystone in the reaches of the Giant’s Shield Mountains. There, a gnollish shaman sought to manipulate planar magic to become an exarch of Yeenoghu. In addition to stopping the shaman she named Fangren and his pack, the Wicked Fang, Amyria needed the party to aid her in a ritual that would use the magic to return her to her true form. If they could not aid her, her voice would grow weaker until her consciousness vanished into nothingness.

The companions had barely accepted her task when a group of unknown assailants attacked, setting fire to the Hall of Great Valor. With the aid of Thorn, who appeared to aid the party amidst the battle, the ragtag band of mercenaries was defeated. The victory came at great cost, however – the Hall and its artifacts burned to the ground. Thorn informed them that their attackers were likely bounty hunters seeking the reward, which had been increased to 3,000 gold each.

Setting off for the Fortress, Sideon’s Army soon became aware of some one or some thing shadowing their steps. Hidden traps and dangers abound; only the party’s skills carried them safely to the entrance of the Fortress. The minions of Fangren were waiting, however, and the party fought their way through the Wicked Fang at the doorstep and into a bizarre series of rooms connected by portals.

Scouting deeper into the Fortress, the party discovered a locked door, a strange room with vicious looking mounted gnolls, and finally a corner room with yet more inhabitants, turning to attack…

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The Queen is dead, again and messages from Brindol

Sideon’s Army scoured the entirety of the dwarven keep, eliminating the last of its monstrous inhabitants. However, they could not find any entrance to the fabled Mines of Karak. The Birdman abruptly disappeared during the final encounter with a carrion crawler and a few harpies. Only later did the party discover a few telltale canary feathers and the barefoot human tracks leading out into the raging sandstorm.

Retreating into the keep, the friends attempted to rest and wait out the storm, but were interrupted by the shrill calls of canaries warning of an ambush. Handily defeating the ambushers, the party discovered an Ironfell signet ring that could unlock the doors of the keep, and a trail of canary feathers leading down to a (now-open) secret entrance to the mines.

Descending into the mines, Sideon’s Army encountered more monstrous resistance and found another prisoner, a ranger named Atreus, who aided in the defeat of the troglodyte guards. In the mines, the Army discovered innumerable dwarven corpses, who appeared to have slain each other in a massive, maddened battle. The companions also discovered that the rock in the mine was shot through with glowing streaks of planar energy, shedding a lurid reddish glow.

The friends followed the signs of recent tracks and mining activity deeper into the mines, where they encountered and defeated a number of denizens of the lower elemental planes. The rocks shot through with elemental energy also increased in prevalence, until finally the Army entered a massive chamber with a huge glowing rift, a portal for elemental creatures to the Elemental Chaos. Across from it sat a massive naga, naming herself Shephatiah, the true Queen of the Drylands, and her demonic guards.

However, the Queen and her guards proved no match for Sideon’s Army. After their defeat, the party found amongst Shephatiah’s belongings missives in Deep Speech, later translated to detail the naga’s discovery of the mine and her activities in reopening it for a group of unnamed masters. The friends also found a strange enchanted ring, marked with an odd symbol with the following engraved phrase: “With Fang, I am invincible.”

Returning to Overlook, the party claimed their reward from Bram Ironfell and discovered that a messenger from Brindol had been looking for none other than Sideon’s Army. However, the messenger had left shortly before the companions returned, leaving with a strange, cloaked figure out into the city…

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The Queen is dead! Long live the Queen!

After a tense night in the rocky flats surrounding the Lode, Sideon’s Army again approached the dwarven citadel. Orpheus was gripped by another vision, this time recognizing the Karak Lode as the fortress ensnared in the coils of a large serpent, and seeing a humanoid face on the serpent. Wasting little time, the companions began their assault.

The friends found the fortress well defended by the minions of Queen Shephatiah. Troglodytes attacked from behind arrow slits and murder holes; human lackeys, elite shifters and even guardian golems attempted to halt the invaders. The Army gave a wide berth to a mysterious sand pile in the central courtyard that consumed one of their enemies who was taken prisoner after a fight. A berbalang, a horrific creature feeding off of the dead in the basement below, attacked viciously but ended up fleeing the might of Sideon’s Army.

The party also discovered a strange old man surrounded by seven birds, apparently taken prisoner by the forces of Queen Shephatiah. He did not speak, but merely nodded and smiled at any of the companion’s efforts to engage him in conversation. The Army released him, and he followed after them in the keep, often turning up in the strangest places.

Finally, Sideon’s Army descended into what appeared to be a throne room, with odd trees of Underdark origin growing up through the flagstone floor. More lackeys and shifters awaited the friends, along with what two hellish hyenas and what appeared to be an eladrin female. Proclaiming herself Queen of the Drylands, the eladrin revealed herself as a dryad, and ordered death for the intruders.

However, the tables quickly turned, and Sideon’s Army made quick work of the so-called Queen and her minions. An investigation of the area turned up a dead villager from Dunesend, and a cache of gold coins. However, even though the friends had explored most of the fortress, one question remained: where was the mine?

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Heroes, Villans, and Big Blue Worms

As a tremor shook the floor beneath them, Sideon’s Army stepped through the portal in Umbraforge tower to the cavern in which they arrived into the Shadowfell. Thannu, Sarshan’s lieutenant, turned from his contemplation of the planar portal and considered the group, his eyes narrowing. Distrustful of the party, Thannu attacked, certain he would be rewarded by Sarshan for eliminating the threat. However, Thannu underestimated the prowess of Sideon’s Army, and paid for the mistake with his life. Searching the body, Laric discovered a bit of gold and a note instructing Thannu to deal with someone named ‘Quinlan’ and to secure the Overlook portal permanently.

Suddenly, a massive tremor rocked the small cave. Through the entrance, the party could see Sarshan’s foundry and Umbraforge tower begin to crumble as the nearby volcano erupted. The shadow rift consumed both structures as the mercenaries in Sarshan’s camps fled and the slaves revolted against their captors and escaped the cataclysm. A burst of shadow energy erupted from the portal to Umbraforge tower, striking the Shadowfell portal and creating a half dozen howling wraiths, who hungrily chased the party through the portal and into the material world.

Once back on the Prime Material, the friends were surprised to find the tunnels occupied by dwarven guards, who joined the fray as the specters crossed over and drained the magic of the Shadowfell portal. The specters were numerous and fierce, but proved no match for Laric’s divine power as reinforcements poured into the room. Reniss, Captain Thofire and the ex-paladin owners of the Happy Beggar ran to challenge the specters, lending the Army their aid.

Once the specters were defeated, the party shared its tale of the events beyond the portal, and the dire warnings of impending war. Captain Thofire filled them in on the events that transpired in Overlook during their absence. Reniss, after watching the Army disappear into the Happy Beggar without returning, spoke with the ex-paladins Prashant & Asuma and began a search of the establishment, eventually locating the secret passage and the caverns below. Upon discovering the Shadowfell portal, Reniss promptly informed the Ministry of Defense, who studied the portal and began to prepare an expedition to investigate what lay beyond. However, the portal began to manifest instabilities, even throwing off other shadow creatures, and the expedition was scrapped and the portal let alone, albeit under constant guard.

A nondescript Halfling stepped forward and introduced himself as Belben Shortcloak, who acted as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Ministry of the Interior amongst the folk of Overlook. He advised the party that the other portals in the caves beneath the Beggar led to warehouses scattered throughout the city. Belben had been able to learn that the warehouses were being brokered by a tiefling named Quinlan, an unsavory sort who operated out of Tradetown and had known links to the Lost Ones. Belben’s information led him to conclude that Quinlan was a middleman, acting as a go-between for Sarshan and some affluent individual or group of individuals in Overlook. Those individuals, he noted, must have been well connected enough to obtain the warehouse space, set up the portals, and keep the entire operation off of the Ministry’s radar. Belben’s list of possible suspects was short, and none of the options boded well for Overlook. On exiting the Happy Beggar with Belben and Captain Thofire, the companions were greeted with cheers and accolades for their actions in saving the City. While the exact details were kept quiet, the Captain acknowledged the efforts of Sideon’s Army in halting a grave threat to the city.

Retiring to Sideon’s inn, the Mountain’s Hearth, the friends were heartily welcomed back by Binwin. The Army was gladly situated in their suites, although the month’s accounting was not yet complete, and Binwin had no word from Drogan, Sideon’s tutor. Before retiring, a dwarf messenger clad in the colors of the Ministry of the Interior delivered a request from Zanfire Warstout to meet him on the morrow, as he had a task in mind for Overlook’s newest heroes. The friends decided to seek out the tiefling Quinlan first, as they discerned he was in danger and may prove to be their best lead to Sarshan’s co-conspirators in the city.

Unfortunately, the Army was too late; upon their arrival in Tradetown at Quinlan’s favorite haunt, they discovered his overlarge body swinging from a rope tied to the roof of the tavern. The party’s investigation turned up little; no trace of the assailants remained, and even questions asked of the corpse yielded the only clue to Quinlan’s assailants – the initials ‘E.C.’.

The companion’s meeting at the Ministry of the Interior turned out to be more profitable. Warstout had been approached by a dwarf named Bram Ironfell, a wealthy citizen of Overlook and member of the Elsir Consortium. Ironfell had a clue to a lost mine, that could prove to be a valuable resource both to his clan, his business, and the City’s preparations for the coming war. Ironfell himself awaited the friends at the Ministry, and the party agreed to speak with him.

Ironfell greeted the heroes warmly, thanking them for their efforts on behalf of Overlook Wasting little time the dwarf launched into a lengthy history of a mine he called the Karak Lode. The Lode, located far to the south across a burning desert, was lost when the dwarven kingdom’s borders contracted against the press of orcs, giants and other monstrous races. However, clues as to the location of Karak were found amongst the papers left behind in Sarshan’s warehouse. Ironfell, sought out by the Ministry because of his clan’s ties to the mine, researched his family’s records and confirmed the veracity of the information. The clue appeared to be a map of landmarks leading across the desert to the mine.

The Army, after some tough negotiations, agreed to seek out the Lode, and made preparations for its long journey. The first leg would take them to the Thornwaste, a barren scrubland with vegetation bearing razor-sharp thorns. Beyond the Thornwaste lay Dunesend, a small village believed to be constructed on the remains of the supply depot that served the Lode long ago. From there, a two-day journey through the desert would end at the Karak Lode’s location, according to Bram’s information.

The beginning of the journey passed uneventfully, and the Army met up with a ranger named Mag Blackthorn. After some initial misgivings, the ranger agreed to lend his knowledge of the Thornwaste to the party’s aid. After another day, the party was set upon by a group of dwarves, bearing the mark of a clan rival to the Ironfells. The party also discovered a journal that hinted at the possibility that the Lode had already been found, but not who found it. Continuing on, Sideon’s Army bypassed a poisoned thornbush and healed a gravely injured dire tiger lying in the middle of the path to Dunesend, noting three parallel wounds, resembling nothing so much as giant claw marks. Feeling a growing sensation of being watched, the friends kept a close watch on the sky and ground alike. However, other than brief glimpses of a face with goat horns and bearded faces, the Army saw nothing.

The party arrived a day later in Dunesend to discover a bestial gnoll torturing one of the villagers, with a massive, many-legged blue worm eyeing the other denizens of the town hungrily. Wasting little time, Sideon’s Army attacked the gnoll and his behir. They were joined shortly by a group of satyrs, who harried the group from afar. In the end, they proved no match for the friends, and fell to their blades.

The companions learned that the gnoll called itself the Warden, and had been demanding tribute from the village lest he turn the behir loose on its citizens, who were helpless to stop him. The village leader, Lotho, said that the Warden demanded tribute on behalf of someone called Queen Shephatiah. He had never heard of the so-called queen before, but villagers were killed whenever they were not quick enough with their tribute, or could not meet the Warden’s demands for more.

As to the Queen’s location, all Lotho could tell the party was that the Warden arrived with only a few day’s rations for traveling in the desert, and always came from the south. Once, a lackey of the Warden had mentioned a place called ‘Karak’ and was soundly beaten for his slip. Satisfied, the party gathered supplies, and set out across the desert for the Karak Lode.

Somewhere in the middle of the desert, the party discovered ominous tracks in the sand, left by something large. Finding no obvious source of the marks, the party continued on, redoubling their watching of the sky. Halfway into the journey, a strange figure appeared in the haze of the desert ahead. Appearing to be an aged human female, the crone beckoned the party to turn back from their intended destination, and begged their aid. Laric, easily seeing through her lie called out a warning. Seeing her ruse was up, the crone shed her human form, and retreated over the dune. A number of bestial shifters arose from the sand to challenge the friends. However, the party made quick work of them, and continued on through the desert.

Later that day, the party arrived at the location of the Lode on the map. A mass of dwarven ruins greeted them, and the party camped a safe distance away to recouperate and prepare to assault the Karak Lode…

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Dark plots and dirty deeds (done dirt cheap)

Sideon’s Army successfully escaped into the secret passageway linking the foundry and Umbraforge tower. As the tremors and aftershocks from the combat in the foundry subsided, the party explored the narrow, dimly lit corridor that gradually changed from a smooth, man-made tunnel to a natural cavern. After a dozen yards or so, it turned back again, suggesting that the tunnel predated Sarshan’s operations. Respite and reward awaited in a small hidden chamber off the main passage, apparently undiscovered by the shadar-kai. Within, crumbling frescos to various deities adorned the walls and a large, black shrine, covered with a thick layer of dust, dominated the chamber. Laric blew away the dust and examined the shrine, only to discover the three wavy lines of Avandra and a cryptic message inscribed in the stone, “Devotion is its own reward.”

Immediately whispering a prayer to Avandra before the shrine, Laric blinked as a holy symbol appeared on the shrine, radiating a powerful enchantment. Sideon stepped over to the shrine to investigate both it and the newly appeared symbol. He was momentarily taken aback when the graven symbol of Avandra changed before his eyes to a symbol of Ioun. Quickly catching on, Sideon studied his spellbook before the shrine, and a magical lens appeared, which Sid discovered could be used to read any language. Orpheus at first was dubious of the shrine, but when the symbol of the Court of Dreams appeared, he followed suit (in his own unique fashion), and soon snatched up the magical rod that appeared. Muhlic knelt briefly before the symbol of Grumbar that appeared on the shrine and received a massive axe, and Stump knelt as the shrine returned to the three wavy lines of Avandra and yielded a heavy shield. As Stump stood with his new prize, the engravings faded, and the shrine became a bare, obsidian block dominating the room. Closing the door to the chamber, the group took its well-earned rest.

Departing the chamber and hiding its existence against the shadar-kai, the companions set forth into the tower. The first room they discovered held three of Sarshan’s elite guard, and one of his spellcasters. After a brutal fight, the Army was victorious, and began to explore the chamber. They confirmed the extent of Sarshan’s research into the manipulation of creatures with shadow magic into twisted war machines that was taking place in the foundry. They also discovered extensive research into teleportation portals, both inter- and intra-planar, and the locations of some of those portals in both the Shadowfell and the mortal plane. They also discovered research into methods to attune portals to specific individuals, races and keyed items.

Moving through the door to the northeast, the friends discover an alchemical lab, apparently used for experiments blending shadow magic and living creatures. Bottles of bubbling, viscous fluids, alchmical apparatus and jars with malformed horrors line the tables and cabinets in the room. Searching through the lab, the party uncovers some valuable alchemical and ritual components, but no further information of value. Led by Stump up the flight of stairs in the room, the Army finds another unoccupied lab, this time with no valuable components. However, a pile of scrolls in the bookcase did hide a substantial purse of gold.

Moving into the center of the Tower, a strange sight awaited – a seemingly healthy, lush garden, complete with trees, shrubs and a small pond sprung up out of the stone of the tower. On closer inspection, however, the tree limbs, foliage and grasses were shades of sickly gray and blue, and the pond was a black and viscous sludge. In the center of the room was a strange opening to the lower floor that pulsed with magic that Sideon and Orpheus were able to identify as a levitation spell, ostensibly for moving between levels of the tower. A 15-foot teleportation portal, attuned to an unknown individual, dominated the south wall of the room.

Swarms of smaller beetles and one giant beetle assaulted Sideon’s Army, who eliminated the bugs handily, led by Sideon’s bursts of shadow and force daggers. The friends had no time to enjoy their victory, however, as the shouts of guards from below signaled that their luck had run out. From each of the four corners of the garden, a squad of shadow soldiers appeared. A grizzled shadar-kai veteran came up the levitation lift from the first floor, accompanied by six other warriors wielding wicked-looking spiked chains and a pair of umbral panthers. “Stand down, or your lives are forfeit!” he shouted.

At that instant, the portal on the south wall glowed brightly, and the party could see the blackened chamber into which they arrived from the mortal realm, and the interplanar gate they took to arrive here. As the friends looked on, another shadar-kai stepped through. Stump immediately recognized the veteran from the Happy Beggar, and the others recognized the man who staggered out of the Beggar after Stump had made his way in. However, he was no longer stooped, and the scars faded away to reveal the gray skin of a shadar-kai. “I am Sarshan”, he announced, “Would someone care to explain what is going on?”

The grizzled shadar-kai accompanied by the panthers began to detail the damage done by the party, only to be interrupted by Sarshan, who questioned the group about their involvement with the death of Modra, and the assault on the foundry. Orpheus, speaking for the group, took credit for the death of the dark creeper, and Sarshan nodded appreciatively. Acknowledging the mutual debt for the killings of Modra and Sarshan’s personal guards in the library, the shadar-kai made a surprising offer – “Join me.” Alluding to calamity about to befall the mortal realm, Sarshan instead offered Sideon’s Army the chance to become Sarshan’s Army, instead. Seeing no other option, the group accepted, with the hope of bluffing the cunning shadar-kai. Orpheus’ silvered tongue did its work, and the mercenary nodded in acceptance and instructed Thannu to see to the provisions.

The party was escorted to the guard quarters by the guard captain and his panthers, who Sarshan called Thannu. With gruff instructions to rest and wait for orders, Thannu turned to leave. Suddenly, Umbraforge tower was rocked by a massive tremor, and a distant explosion shook the walls. Through the levitation lift, the friends could see a guard rush over to Sarshan, reporting an explosion in the foundry. All around the Army, shadar-kai rushed about, grabbing armor and weapons as Sarshan and Thannu barked orders. After Sarshan departed through the first floor levitation lift, Thannu looked directly at the companions with a dark glare, telling them to stay where they were. Turning, he descended the levitation lift and disappeared through the south portal with his panther compantions. Quickly, Sideon’s Army took advantage of the distraction, reattuned the gateway behind Thannu, and made good their escape from the tower. Unfortunately, one unhappy guard and two big cats stood between Sideon’s Army and the doorway back to Overlook…

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Visions of the future

Déjà vu washes over you as you look around at the cavernous chamber in which you find yourself. Your footsteps are muffled by the plush, red carpet beneath your feet, leading you through long rows of marble columns that stretch to the ceiling far above. Polished braziers shed bright light that dims just a few short feet away, leaving much of the room in shadow. Before you stand a set of massive double doors, flanked by two wavering, indistinct figures. As you draw closer, you are unable to distinguish one figure from another, or even put a race or even gender to them. However, you can discern that their overall appearance seems martial in nature.

Without a word, the figure to your right raises a hand to one of the huge doors and pulls it aside for you, beckoning you to enter. Your feeling of déjà vu strengthens as you pass the doors; beyond, the red carpet continues to a raised dais that occupies the center of the room. Light from immense windows pours into the circular chamber, crossing each other on the carpet before the steps up to the room’s central platform. Atop the dais sits a semicircular table at which seven more shifting figures are seated. By contrast to those before, however, these seven are easily distinguishable. In fact, no two are alike; each looks like the reflection of a unique rainbow reflected in a rippling pond. Waves of arcane power wash over you as you approach, filling you with awe and trepidation in equal measure. Your memory clicks, and you recognize that you are before the Court of Dreams.

You ascend the two steps to the dais to stand before the council. A whisper sounds deep in the recess of your mind.

“Welcome back, world walker. It seems your travels have taken you far from home. Tell us what you know of this Modra, and the arms dealer who hunts him.”

After listening while Orpheus tells of the Army’s exploits, the whisper comes again.

“Your path is true. Your journey to the Shadowfell will lend you insight into what is to come. Look to the Dream; it will tell you more. Farewell…planes walker.”

You feel something take hold of your consciousness, followed by the sensation of acceleration. Thousands of images flash before you, slowly at first and then more rapidly. You see men and women of all races, some of which you have no name for. Dreams and nightmares pass before you. A number of images stand out in your mind:

-A vampire approaches threateningly, fangs bared. As it draws nearer, you notice one of its fangs appears lit from within, and tiny figures move inside. The other fang oozes burning hot red blood, shot through with streaks of black;

-Creatures – humans, orcs, goblinoids, giantkin, animals, are twisted by dark experiments into horrific mockeries of their former selves, looking like nothing less than killing machines;

-A broken fortress atop a fiery ravine, from which a massive serpent arises to wrap its slick coils around the crumbling battlements;

-A shining longsword sitting in a glass case catches and reflects the light. Suddenly, a woman’s scream echoes out from the sword, shattering the sword and its glass case;

-A demon faces off against a angel on an ancient altar atop a raised dais. The altar alternates between giving off a bright white light and a smoky, reddish glow, seemingly with the tide of battle between the angel and the demon. A pack of howling jackals slowly circle the pair at the foot of the dais as they battle;

-A dessicated humanoid rides a dragon of bone that belches clouds of poison gas onto a group of refugees fleeing a collapsing, burning building. Taking wing, the bone dragon and its rider fly up to circle a city you quickly identify as Overlook, but an Overlook aflame, with mobs of soldiers burning and looting as desperate refugees flee the city for their lives…

Your eyes snap open, the dream already fading. You feel a wrenching sensation as your eyes open to darkness. The light returns, but dimmer than before. As you become accustomed to the low light, you take in your surroundings. The chamber in which you find yourself is a strange inversion of that you just left. Walls once white are now jet black; the chamber’s entrance and the portal on the wall are now reversed. The collapsed wall, previously in the northeast corner of the chamber, is gone. Instead, the floor in the southwest corner is collapsed. Gray glass globes lining the walls give off the dim light illuminating the chamber.

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