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…