Return to Blackshard
100 LA, Arc of Sahaad, 6
The unbroken fortress of Three Oaks rose before the heroes as they returned from the dragon’s lair. It is much as they had left it, save for a thick fog now surrounding the woods immediately to the north and beyond. The Elves of Three Oaks seem even more meagerly supplied than before. A massive pile of backpacks and sacks are piled along the floors of the fortress – laid out in case of evacuation. It seemed Lord Dashtir’s fear that Three Oaks may be overwhelmed was sincere. Lord Dashtir greeted the Heroes in his usual manner, “The Shadow will fall!”
To which the Heroes responded, “And the Light shall return!”
Sitting down with his most trusted allies, Lord Dashtir spoke plainly, “This fog and the growing malevolence of the insane whisper emanates from a source of some great evil. My spies tell me of an ebon crystal in a mist-shrouded gulch. Burned buildings surround the place yet orcs and oruks are there, seemingly demolishing what was ruined and rebuilding the key structures. My troops have, one-by-one, been going mad since the fog from the darkening wood has returned. The only good news we’ve received has been your slaying of the dragon! In the weeks I have known you, you have accomplished more deeds of renown than most heroes could ever hope for in a lifetime and yet, I must task you one final time; will you seek out the source of this Darkening Wood and destroy it once and for all? If you succeed, return to Three Oaks and tell us of your success.”
After a lengthy journey back to the Darkening Wood the Heroes made their way toward Aelgar’s Gulch. The fog that had receded from these lands now filled the camp. Through the thick gauze, a lyre’s strains were heard as were Orcish voices. Snatches of the conversation hinted at the orcs rebuilding the camp. Sounds of hammers and saws punctuate their conversation.
Killing a sentry, the Heroes crept into the old camp. In the guise of a Legate, the Heroes approached, demanded to be seen by their head Legate of the camp. The orcs, seemingly unimpressed stated that there was only “one Legate”. The Heroes became suspicious of the orcs immediately, but realized only too late that the Orcs where Fell, bound to some unknown power. Mahogin now Fell led a group of undead Oruks from a secret passage in the Western crag. Aelgar, Fell too, led a contingent of undead Oruks as well. The fog made attacks at range difficult. Using what they knew about the Darkening Wood, the Heroes focussed on destroyed the crystal shard at the camp’s heart. A minute later, the fog dissipated, making attacking at a distance a possibility once more! Soon after, the foes were quickly vanquished. The shards of the crystal were collected as were there Fell bodies of Aelgar, Mahogin and Aelgar’s son.
Once more the Darkening Wood has been banished from Erethor. The voices of Whispering Wood, so often defiled in the past months spoke again. Though the fog rolled away to its hidden sources and the trees themselves found peace, the first voice heard by Kreeland Sparrow was not one of gratitude but of distress. Vague feelings of urgency and fear permeated their senses and called the Heroes south. The words Three Oaks, Ossion and grave news were clearly heard.
Three Oaks and the Brightening Wood
100 LA, Arc of Sennach 3
En route to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp the Heroes headed back toward Three Oaks. Though the fog was gone, the flames of the Burning Linehad risen. From atop a hill the Heroes could see the army of Commander Jorg Kinslayer has gained ground on the battlefield, and what was more, a foul new threat rose from the South. On the horizon a long, thin line, like a skeleton’s shadow stretched out toward the front. It appeared that a third army had arrived. Though not yet within striking distance of Three Oaks, it was a matter of hours before this dread legion joined the assault. Anxiety gripped the Heroes as they hurried through t he woods toward Three Oaks, eager to join in her defense.
They arrival was marred by grim news. Lord Dashtir had been badly wounded. Pushing against his healers with his right hand upon seeing the Heroes, Dashtir half-rose from the cot. His eyes were unfocussed yet his face was set in the same grim mask of determination. “Dragon Slayers and Saviours of the wood! My soul hastens back to my body and my spine turns to iron! You have succeeded in our hour of need, yet there is more devilry coming from the south, as I feared.
“Sunulael, the First Legate of Izrador has sent an army of Fell and Giantkin to Three Oaks. How this black priest can control the Fell is a mystery to all, yet it cannot be denied! The walking dead, once a scourge to friend and foe alike…a mindless storm of death and disease has been harnessed by the master of death and they come to Three Oaks to end our resistance at last!”
“Suruliam beckons you to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp. She believes she knows the source of this new malignancy. The fate of all rely on you now brethren, you are indeed the Hope of Erethor.” Looking to the Heroes, his eyes fluttered. He fell back into his cot, his body convulsing in agony. Clenching his fist, he spoke, “I know you will not fail us. The Shadow will…” but he did not finish. The silver Beacon, Lord Dashtir had fallen silent.
Return to Druid’s Swamp
100 LA, Arc of Sennach, 20
Upon reaching the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp the Heroes approached the great oak tree known as Echo’s Gate. Sitting in council was Suruliam – Hierophant Druid of the swamp. With her was Breouland Yihil. Standing in their midst was Ossion and Rolarr. Seeing the Heroes, Breoul summoned them. “Grave news, friends. Ossion, speak of what you’ve seen in the heart of the Dead Marshes.”
The Heroes were just about to listen to Ossion’s tale when they noticed yet another familiar face. Huge and silent, the prophet known as White Mother’s Sonsat in council, listening.
Ossion’s eyes glassed over and a look of terror came unbidden to his face. “I had not reached the heart of the marsh, but came close before the dread overtook me. A massive cloud swirls overhead and cries fill the air! The Lost, those souls of the departed, fly in a whirl overhead, a grim gyre, warning the living of foul magics and of a siren call unheard by any but the dead! I felt a heart beat pounding in the brackish waters around my knees and on the wind, shrieks of agony from the centre of the marsh. The evil Aradil spoke of – in the utter south – Suruliam agrees – I have found it! The last thing I saw before I was overcome with fear was an ebon outline in the grey mist, a black finger, a tower reaching up from the depths. I did not approach it but my guess is that it rises some 420 feet into the sky. It is the epicenter around which Lost souls churn and howl."
Hearing that the mysterious threat they had sought so long had finally been discovered, the Heroes wasted no time. They knew that Three Oaks was still in jeopardy, and waiting here would do nothing to aid their allies in the north and so, without hesitation, the Heroes ventured into the greatly feared Dead Marshes.
The Dead Marshes
LA 100, Arc of Sennach, 33
Ossion’s words were proved true soon after entering the Dead Marshes. In the sky above, the Lost swirled in an anguished maelstrom. The spirits of the dead formed a wailing host amongst the glowering storm clouds that have driven all creatures of flesh from the swamp. The chill mists of the Dead Marshes were thicker than anywhere else in the Druid’s Swamp – and they are as cold as a winter’s night. The ground of the glade was broken and unstable, little more than mounds of earth covered by clumps of black, lifeless grass between pools of stagnant water. After days of travel, the Heroes found themselves near where they assumed Ossion and Rolarr turned back – for the same instinct screamed in the Heroes veins to turn back – to flee now, before it was too late…
The stink of decaying vegetation and water-bloated flesh filled the Heroes’ nostrils. The disquieting sound of a monstrous heart, felt rather than heard, grew ever stronger. A green light emerged from the depths of the water and cast a fiendish glow in the haze that is sickening to the living. To the Heroes astonishment, the sinister glade began filling with a green mist. The Sickening Mists filled the air around them. From below, a splashing was heard. Bony hands clawed at the Heroes’ ankles. Grim, orc-skulled Fell emerged from the bogs, attempting to drag you down with them into their watery graves.
The battle that followed was fearsome. Six heroes stood perilously on tiny lumps of land. Around them rose twenty-four Fell orcs, clawing at them. The heroes, though overwhelmed in number were not shaken by these maelgral fiends. Too slow moving to deal a serious blow to the Heroes, even when tripped and threatened, were able to use their expertise to undo these vile creatures in short order. Among the great warriors of this battle was Kendra, an expert with the spiked-chain, she could slay these undead in a whirl of steel and fury, even from a prone position.
What the Heroes realized most from this battle was simple: the rumours of Orcs being made Fell were indeed true, and perhaps rumours of Sunulael himself being behind the corruption of his rival, Jahzir’s orcs had truth in them as well. They also briefly recalled the words of the letter entitled: To Maelzon from the Master in Grey, that spoke of “when the South burns and the swamps are thick with sinew, then the day of triumph will have come…”
Skirting the Spire
Marching onward past the bogs and bodies, the Heroes at last came to the foot of the Obsidian Spire. The jagged tower glistened in the centre of a maze of treacherous paths and grassy humps filled with stagnant water. Below the surface of these mires, a sickening green seeped from the depths, a ghost light the colour of fresh bile.
The walls of the tower were constructed of long shards of black, glassy rock, wickedly pointed and overlapped like the scales of a monstrous beast. There was something reptilian about the Obsidian Spire, and it is almost seemed alive. From its depths, a dull pounding reverberates across the glade like a vast demonic heart; each beat sends ripples through the scum that covers the water of the tainted pools and sends waves of dread into the marsh beyond.
To the astonishment of the Heroes, a line of slaves, mostly orcs, were being led, drugged and in chains toward the entrance to the Spire. At the head of the column stood a scrawny but cruel faced Legate, his Ape Astirax nearby, its red eyes glinting menacingly above the heads of a dozen mercenaries from Sharuun.
Not willing to risk letting these villains enter the Obsidian Spire, the Heroes quickly formulated a plan. Charging the unaware foes, the Heroes unleashed hell. Valana used her Ashen Loop to full effect, blowing a cone of flame at the Sharuun mercenaries, catching nearly all of them in her firey path. In a few short minutes, the reign of terror enjoyed by these servants of the shadow faded into smoke. Looting the bodies, the Heroes equipped the slaves who seemed most capable. Directing them back to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp and especially to White Mother’s Son, the Heroes proceeded toward the nearly invisible door to the Obsidian Spire. The slain Legate, Krell, knew the password, but his grimacing, cracked skull had no way to betray its secrets now. Instead, the Heroes employed the mighty Vala’im to crash through the gate. This was no small feat, for the Obsidian Spire is made of powerful material. Eventually, the door gave way, and the Heroes, now giving up all hope of a surprise attack, made their way in to the fearsome stronghold of the foe.
The Spire’s Brides, Servants and Secrets
Within the spire, the black rock glistened with beading moisture. The air was hot and fetid, like a rotting womb. The eerie lich light and a hazy mist cast a sinister cloak over the narrow corridors, winding stairs and uneven chambers of the Obsidian Spire.
The tower stretched above the Heroes. Peering up, they saw nothing but darkness, as though the entire tower was a hollow shadow. A spiral staircase in the Southern end of the structure seemed to be the only way up.
Climbing nearly 100 feet up, the Heroes mounted the stair. The floor above was a semi-transparent, black, volcanic glass. Through it, the Heroes could see shadowy figures hurrying to and fro.
An altar to Izrador sat in the centre of this room. Half a dozen female Legates of the Shadow stood ready, their lioness Astiraxes licking their chops – eyes glowing red in the torch light. None spoke, but the mad brides of the tower raised a baleful battle cry and prepared themselves to defend the master of the tower.
Rushing forward, Kendra took two steps onto the obsidian floor of the chamber, to her shock, the floor simply gave way – an illusion! Such tricks are always dreadful but to plummet one hundred feet straight down through shadow is a feeling of total helplessness that few can stand and fewer still can survive. The Heroes, now tentative of the very floor beneath their feet tread carefully during the battle, most opting to hop over the altar at the room’s centre – a canny choice which undid much of the traps’ trickery. In time, the brides of the tower fell before the Heroes might, but at no small cost, paid out in blood and fear.
Climbing another hundred feet into the shadowy tower’s heart, the Heroes saw yet another semi-transparent floor. Here, the movements were slow and deliberate. Maniacal, male laughter filled the chamber above. There, standing near an altar to Izrador were the Spire’s servants and their Tiger Astiraxes. A similar situation unfolded. Illusory floor panels gave way, sending many of the heroes to a dreadful, one hundred foot fall. In the end, the Heroes triumphed. Peering up into the darkness, the wondered and what dreadful tricks still lay ahead.
The same, Obsidian glass floor came into view as they ascended a total of 300 feet in the air. Here, there were no telltale sounds or shadows. All was silence and darkness as the Heroes entered the chamber.
Being born into a world little better than a nightmare, never before had the Heroes any occasion to doubt their senses at the horror around them. Yet in this moment, looking up, they saw a figure from a madman’s dreams – alien and utterly diabolical in appearance, a humanoid form swathed in eldritch horror peered down with dull and merciless eyes. An instinctual fear stirred at the base of each Heroes’ neck – an instinct as ancient as the Elthedar themselves. The creature’s head – there was something wrong with its head that the Heroes could not seem to fathom. After seconds of denial and dread their minds finally admitted the truth being told by their senses: the head of the creature, was putrid purple in colouration with whirling tentacles writhing in the near darkness. Casting their eyes about them, the Heroes saw three other such figures standing at the chamber’s far side. Every nerve shouted out to flee…senses awash in a primal dread. Never had the Heroes been in the presence of a nightmare cthonic and ancient as this. A name came unbidden to the fey – Darghul – the mind flayers floated before them!
Within seconds, Kreel stood forzen, stunned by the psionic powers of the fiends. So too did the mighty Valana. The other heroes had all fallen trough grim, illusory holes in the chamber’s floor – all save the valiant Sparrow. Risking all, he leaped across the chasms, barely being quick enough to grasp the side before he fell. Pulling himself up at the feet of a Darghul, the Elfling stood before the might of its psionic assault – yet he did not quaver or fail. Standing against the great power of the enemy, Sparrow single-handedly slew the creature, then hurried off to aid his stricken comrades. Had Sparrow not succeeded here, this tale would have likely ended in the death of half the party, yet luck was ever at the Elfling’s side, and so at his time of greatest need, the boon granted him at his birth bore fruit. It was not long before the other two stalking creatures were slain, and the last of their number was outmatched by the combined force of the Heroes. They’d survived that which few may endure, and proved themselves once again, true champions!
The Lich Loft
The highest chamber in the Obsidian spire was awash with the sickening glow that permeated the rest of the tower. The sound of the beating heart was hunderous in this place, and words could not be heard at all. A skeletal creature looked up from the balefully glowing orb over which it stooped. The sharp angles of its skull were encased by withered, leather skin, stretched to breaking by its rictus smile. In the empty eye sockets, two pricks of cold blue light grew larger at the audacity of the Heroes’ intrusion. A male and female legate stood guard at the lich’s command, as did the Legates’ astirax companions.
Making quick work of the Legates and their creatures, the Heroes rushed the old lich, Vrolk. About to utter a dreaded spell, he was stifled by the resourceful Elfling and his magical weapons. An unnatural silence filled the room, making it impossible for Vrolk to utter the words of power needed to cast his spells. Even his dreaded Staff was of no use. Fleeting into secret paths behind the Cadaverous Eye, the lich was stopped by the relentless Valana. Wrestling the withered creature to the floor, she smashed the beast with her bare fists, pounding the unlife from the corpse. The other Heroes joined in the fray and in moments – the great power of the Dead Marshes was destroyed.
Turning their attention to the Cadaverous Eye, the Heroes wondered at its power – the power to control the Fell! Temptation filled their hearts – to use the Fell against Izrador and to hold the keys to an unending army! Yet they remembered too that their allies at Three Oaks were under siege by the Fell, obedient to the last command given. Knowing that Three Oaks must not fall, the Heroes destroyed the ancient and evil wonder, and in so doing, sent the army of Kulos the Exonerated into a madened frenzy, thus saving the fortification of Three Oaks from being overrun, and saving the life of their old friend, Lord Dashtir!
Cracks in the Shadow had begun to form. Widespread knowledge of Sunulael‘s treachery against Jahzir moved through the Whispering Wood like wildfire, and it is assumed, into the ranks of the Shadow’s forces too.
What lies ahead may have been hinted at months ago through the words of Dustel Terk the seer. “If Dashtir is triumphant, there shall follow civil war.”
The Heroes returned, triumphantly to the Hamlet of Druid’s Swamp on 100 LA, Arc of Halail 19!