I walked for weeks. It took that long to reach somewhere I had never been. I was excited, exhilarated. The savage wind tangled long fingers through my hair. Snow scent tickled my nostrils carried on breezes that chilled my cheeks. Villagers feared the cold and huddled within their foul smelling hovels as if fragile wood could protect them from winter’s notice. The frost gathering on my eyelashes elated me, made me feel alive. I breathed out a long streamer of smoke, as if I had dragon in my ancestry, and smiled. Fear for my father had drown my longing for the icy vastness of my homeland’s unexplored reaches; I hadn’t realized how much I missed this until it was restored to me.
Yet I was still restless and discontent. I wasn’t certain why, until a sight of incredible beauty assaulted me. A mountain stream tumbled though these rocks in warmer months, but winter in the northlands was far too cold for any water to move freely. The stream had failed to anticipate the arrival of the months of ice. It had been caught midleap, frozen in motion as it cascaded down the cliff. Jagged icicles of crystal and blue jutted from the frozen mass at angles I had never before seen. They stabbed the sunlight and trapped its life-blood within their hearts, glittering, glossy, majestic and beautiful. I turned to draw my father’s attention to the sight, but he was not there. I had no one with whom to share my discoveries.
I was alone. It was a strange feeling, loneliness. I had never had a
companion besides my father, but I had never been alone either. Now I was and I did not like it. It sapped the joy from my discoveries. The North wind nibbled on my exposed flesh in a friendly way, but it could not talk to me and I craved conversation.
I could have sought out some village tavern, but they were unruly places full of beings more than willing to put a knife in a girl’s back for the coin to buy an ale. Few there would give me more than a handful of words, much less a discourse on the beauties of frozen water. If I wanted to chat I needed someone who shared my interests, not just a body too drunk to avoid my monologues.
I was a sorceress; I’d inherited the power from my mother. Sorceri could summon familiars, though it was not something I had ever tried. I made camp for the night, lighting my fire in the lee of a stone and wrapping my blanket around me. I closed my eyes, focusing past the sound of the rabbit sizzling above my fire and gathered all the knowledge I possessed about familiars.
It took me most of a week to gather everything I needed, and a full day to finish the ceremony. When it was done I waited impatiently, unsure of whether I had succeeded or failed. I expected some animal to appear…perhaps a housecat or maybe an owl. Instead a soft giggle drew my attention upwards and I saw Jadis for the first time.
She looked a bit like the hungry, half feral children I often saw in villages at the beginning of thaw…but only if they had frozen solid and turned icy blue. Her white hair swept stiffly upwards above gleaming blue eyes. Delicate, elongated fingers reached out towards me while wings like snowflakes held her aloft. I held my hands out to her and she perched within them, sitting daintily upon my thumb and kicking her tiny feet cheerfully.
I fed her my magic everyday, and she returned it to me in the form of healing spells and protection. Any time I felt my self start to slip on the ice covered mountain rocks I felt her tiny hands gripping me, trying to keep me upright. Despite the solidity of her presence and the fact that she could affect others as easily as she affected me no one else seemed capable of seeing her. This did not bother me; there were enough crazy people around that no one paid much attention to one girl talking to herself.
I greeted my explorations with renewed vigor, pointing out the beauties of the mountainous wastes to my insubstantial friend with a light heart. When Tarsakh arrived Jadis was as impatient as I for the windride. She woke me even earlier than normal so we could prepare for the rush of Shaundakul’s power. We rode the wind together, blown though the air on swirls of gaseous vapor. Dusk’s arrival startled and saddened me, as it always did on this day of near inconceivable freedom. I opened my eyes to study the location where my God’s whim had placed me and was shocked into speechlessness.
Everything was green. I saw no gray stones, no white snow. Just towering tree behemoths rooted into richly dark earth. I slipped my cloak from my shoulders; my other clothing quickly joined it in a pile on the ground. It was HOT here, I’d never heard of the windride moving a person through time…but it seemed more like midsummer than late autumn. I slipped the light deerskin of my summer wear out of my pack and carefully folded my winter clothing for use as a pillow later. The increased comfort let me focus on my search for a safe place to rest.
It was dusk, and I did not want to wander around a foreign area in the dark. Strange things avoided the gleaming light of the brilliant sun. Undead wander the darkness, afraid of the burning heat of the day. I’ve faced them before and come out unscathed, thank Shaundakul, but I prefer to avoid the mindless violence of their presence whenever possible.
Morning came and dawn slid delicate fingers through the towering spruce. Jadis brushed frigid fingers against my cheek and I stood and stretched. I prayed; morning prayers to Shaundakul filled my mind and heart. Soft pink shaded to crystalline blue in the east and the time for prayer was done. Newly refreshed and filled with divine blessing I hummed softly to myself as I rolled my blanket and strapped it to my pack. Once I hitched my worldly belongings over my shoulder it was a simple matter to shimmy down my chosen tree and proceeded on my way.
I found a road almost immediately. It was strangely smooth and full. The roads I was used to were little more than rutted paths winding between villages. Traders like my father walked them with pack mules and farmers occasionally traveled them with wagons and curses. I’ve helped with more than one broken wagon wheel. Farmers in distress are always more than happy to see a cleric of the helping hand on the road with them, unlike the Orcs and half-orcs. They were never happy to see anyone and I often left the road to avoid them.
This road was straight and smooth. Someone had put a great deal of effort into making it simple for merchants to traverse. In response merchants traversed it in great numbers. I’ve waited out the mud season in villages with smaller populations than that road.
Those merchants and their goods streamed past me as I stopped at the top of a ridge. They proceeded along their alien thoroughfare and into what I assumed to be a town as if all were perfectly normal, but if anything had been designed just to show me how different the place I was in now was from the one I grew up in it was this collection of structures.
Buildings sprawled haphazardly across emerald hills and spilled down into valleys. They glowed in the morning light, carefully tended and prosperously presented with roofs of strange green slate and manicured surroundings. Despite the obvious wealth that confronted me no walls protected those structures from armed raiders, no guardsmen walked the perimeter to drive off bandits, no security was visible at all. It was almost as if the inhabitants of this strange locale had no fear of violence or banditry.
As I wandered the winding avenues within the town called Waylune, I slowly discovered more about it. The odd green slate came from a supposedly haunted quarry to the north, a man named Lord Sarp Redbeard ran the place, three churches dotted the hills, each devoted to a different deity, and a man in a blue robe was looking for some sort of help. He wanted potential assistants to gather at a place called the Wyvern Watch.
It seemed the most interesting thing to do in town, and the gossip at the inn in question was more likely to acquaint me with this odd place than anything else I could think of. I settled into a corner, ordered myself a cider and pulled my hood down a little farther over features that didn’t seem quite so out of place here. I’d seen more people with my milky pale skin wandering the streets than I had ever seen in my life, and no one seemed to sport the rough features of the orcish races. It was yet another strangeness to add to the list, and I wondered once again if there was some divine purpose behind my location or if the god had simply decided that the abandoned reaches near the roof of the world were too familiar a haunt for me.
Assorted heavy drinkers sat scattered around the inn common room as other patrons came and went, most ordering food or drink to take with them. Three other individuals captured my attention. Two of them stood out quite a bit, the third less so. All three were as curious as I about the strange flyers posted around the town. I joined their group, as much out of curiosity as anything else. Even I could not make their group any odder, and they welcomed me cheerfully.
The first of my new companions was a gaudily dressed and mannered fellow who went by the appellation of Alejandro de la Vega. His skin was as pale as cream. It lacked the blue shadows of my own skin, instead it was sprinkled with sandy freckles. Dark Auburn red hair provided a sharp contrast to that creamy skin. It was as prettily oiled, curled and perfumed as that of a wealthy merchant’s wife. His eyes were green, it seemed to be a common color in these warm lands. Every eye at are table was some shade of that color. Black clothing and blackened steel reminded me of the bandits back home but his smile was bright. Bandits rarely smiled unless they were planning something particularly nasty. His face was cheerful and he was free with both compliments and gold.
Aster was completely different from Alejandro, yet equally unlike anyone I had ever met. His skin was as moonlight pale as my own, and his ears had the same delicate point at their tips. He was taller than I, and much less delicate in appearance. His hair was black as a moonless night and the golden flecks in his green eyes reminded me of the sunlight shining through oak leaves tattered by a sudden summer hail storm. He was cheerfully voluble without producing Alejandro’s waterfall of words and he sang and played better than any minstrel I had ever heard.
I am as yet unsure of the name of the final member of our party. I have simply called him Archer to myself, for an archer he clearly is. His tangled yellow hair trails across his face to touch his beard framed glower while his brash and savage mannerisms would not have been out of place in Vaasa. He was the first thing I had encountered in this southern land that reminded me of home and I felt secure in my belief that he would help the rest of us for as long as it served his purposes and stab us in the back the minute our presence became a burden to him. It was reassuring to have at least one companion whose motivations I understood.
Eventually our blue robed curiosity made his appearance. I found myself impressed by the nervousness presented by a fellow who should have been most comfortable in this place. Tannister Dranik was a cleric of Mystra, one of the three deities who had temples in this place. Only clerics of Chauntea and Silvanus should have been more secure, yet this man seemed to truly believe that his life was in danger. I listened to his tale of his encounter with the people at the newly built temple to his goddess with growing worry. Father had always portrayed Mystra as a conniving bitch, but I’d always had a bit of a soft spot for the goddess of magic. I would have gone to investigate the temple even without the fee he offered.
A search of the lands around the temple showed no route in besides the front door. A visit to the temple itself showed no oddities in the courtyard, but only certain “chosen” individuals were allowed entrance into the temple proper. Alejandro tried a variety of ways to attempt to bribe others into doing his biding, but none were successful. The four of us ended up posing as potential servants of the goddess to gain access to the secrets of the temple.
Three days of nothing ensued. We never saw the fabled Lady Arthis and Chantar, the brightly smiling fellow who had tempted our fellow devotees out of their money and into this time of quite contemplation., made no appearances. We were left to the lectures of Fembris the endlessly monotonous and the tender ministrations of the guards who politely made certain that we never carried any dangerous belongings around with us. Fortunately the pendant mother left me was small enough to fit into my bra and the symbol of Shaundakul father gave me fit into my panties. Normally I find the smooth grooved wood of my holy symbol comforting. In my panties it was a less so. Uncomforting maybe….certainly uncomfortable, yet the longer I spent within the temple to “Mystra” the less comfortable I felt in general. I did not wish to be without it for even a moment. Instead of resenting its presence I wished for some way to fit my axe down there.
The others were as uncomfortable with our situation as I. This changed Archer not one bit, he merely complained about how much he wanted a drink. Alejandro was more personable in his discontent, We shared tales of our homes and families to relieve our boredom. I listened with fascination to his tales of warm Sembia and his father’s merchant ships, his former pirate of a mother and the wizard’s academy he was supposed to be attending.
On the third day we were taken farther into the temple. Led though pillars of stone and impenetrable gloom we finally saw the treasure for which we had been waiting. I am not certain what it was, but it was nothing of Mystra’s. Conniving and manipulative she may be, but she usually does not send her servants out to create cults and dominate the minds of peasants by force.
I pretended to be just as mindless as the peasants in the group and hoped that Jadis had managed to protect Alejandro. The effort she used defending his mind from the sphere had exhausted her, but that meant nothing. She is a fragile being; her best efforts are not always enough to handle events on a human scale.
We followed Fembrys as a group, proceeding through tunnels and rooms, some clearly devoted to Mystra, others equally clearly devoted elsewhere. The black disk rimmed in violet was no symbol of Mystra’s and the sacrificial altar in the room that smelled of snake held nothing of the goddess of magic. I found myself resenting this charade more and more as we proceeded. What sort of deity needed to hide behind the mask of another’s name?
We reached a series of cells along the edges of an underground river and I learned the success of Jadis’ protection of Alejandro. He refused to enter to his cell despite the presence six visible guards. For a time I feared that his defiance would doom us all, but we persevered. Archer took the two guards who had been following our procession. My spells took one, while the holy weapon I summoned kept two from closing with us and forced them off of the narrow bridge which crossed the underground river. Alejandro ended up locked in a cell despite his first protest and struggled with a guard from within until the Ottyuk in the river woke and finished the guard for him. Fembris tried to escape downstream; but Aster, his octopus and my celestial porpoise prevented that. We successfully captured him and befriended the prison guardian, Mhair.
Mhair had no idea what the priests had actually been up to. He believed this to be a normal prison full of criminals. It was his duty to load said prisoners into a ship and deliver them across the river. From there they were taken to a place called the “last refuge” deep in a swamp. He had a map to this place, which he gave us and my battered group of adventurers settled into his room temporarily to wait out the ottyuk’s fury. We were in no condition to fight such a creature and we needed to cross the river if we were going to rescue the prisoners on the other side. Hopefully Mhair will be willing to take them to safety. Perhaps we can even convince him to carry word of [[Fembris]’ activities to a true temple of Mystra. The clerics of the goddess of magic need to know what is being done by others in her name.
A glimpse of Shadows
Once the Otyugh settled down Alejandro threw some rocks into the water to distract it and crossed the slippery bridge. There was at least one prisoner over there for us to worry about. Mhair had the ability to return her speech and movement to her, but her mind was obviously under the control of that strange sphere. Her name was Mercedes, and I wondered how good she was with the two swords she carried. I would have a chance to find out, as she was to accompany us for the near future. I found it amusing that this strange dark haired woman was the only member of our odd little party who did not have green eyes. Hers were as clear a blue as the savage ice of the northern glacier.
She talked while we planned and I learned how she had come to be here and what little she knew of the activities within this temple. Her story was interesting. She joined the cult in order to learn about Mystra’s sacred trust for her sister, a follower of Mystra. Instead she’d had her will stolen from her and seen her companions taken away one by one. The false Mystrans seemed most interested in those who had some capacity for magic, so she had remained while the others were carted away eight at a time. She was lucky that she has spent her life learning to wield the two swords she carried rather than studying magic like her sister.
The Otyugh got restless so Aster and I slipped out. We stripped the bodies of the dead guards and threw them into the channel at the farthest upstream point we could reach. That settled the creature immensely. Well fed beasts are biddable creatures. Hopefully once it devoured its fill of fresh meat it would settle down for a nap.
We let the Cleric wake and questioned him about the temple and the spell on Mercedes. He was highly uncooperative and spent the majority of his time praying to Shar for our painful demise. Aster and Alejandro both attempted to threaten and bully him. They even drug him over to the channel with the promise of feeding him to the Ottyuk if he did not tell them what they wanted to know. Despite all this my spell of frost won us the only true bit of information we were going to receive from him. The Orb had placed the spell on Mercedes and the others and the Orb was the only way to remove it.
Mhair agreed to take the still bespelled peasants, the stable but unconscious Archer and the once more unconscious and bound cleric to a specified point beyond the temple and wait for us. He also gave us three items that had been left behind by previous prisoners. We accepted the items, bundled up the potentially cursed magical items we had taken from our enemies and headed up the long hallway to the room that had smelled of snakes.
The black pillars, obsidian altar and human remains were the same as the last time we had traveled through here, but I had not been able to examine the strange magic that resided here on our last trip through. I eventually determined that it was a portal to the Plane of Shadow, though a poorly built one. This was probably what had caused the strangely grey skin and odd physical characteristics of the guards that never came above ground. They had trusted their lives to an unstable portal and not come out the same as they were when they entered.
As I finished my study we were attacked by a trio of displacer serpents. Mercedes settled my questions about her skill by dispatching one of them instantaneously and proceeding to the second. Alejandro and I did much less well against the third, but the four of us survived the experience and the three of them did not. I skinned them for Mercedes as we sorted ourselves out after the battle. Apparently she was a cobbler. The idea of displacer serpent boots appealed to her.
The entrance to this room was the illusion of a portal, a black disc edged in purple. Beyond that was a hallway with five other doors. Alejandro slipped through first to explore and let us know what we were getting ourselves into. He found the room of the guards we had already killed, a storeroom and a locked room. The room with the two sets of double doors was locked as well. We contemplated our options for a few moments then decided to attempt to slip through the door we had come down through unobserved. We hoped to avoid a battle that we were not certain we could win, but when Alejandro attempted to open the door to the stairway an immense gong started to sound.
Lady Arthas exploded out of the double doors and attacked us. The battle was brutal but eventually turned in our favor. She realized that and attempted to flee through the unstable portal but we killed her before she could manage it. There was no member of our party that felt any stirrings of mercy for the priesthood of Shar.
We were too exhausted and battered to go on and we holed up in Lady Arthas’ room hoping for a chance to rest. I offered the last of my spell energy to Jadis and she returned it to me in the form of a healing spell. We ate from the storeroom, cleaned ourselves with the temple’s stored water and slept in the bedroom of an evil cleric. Mercedes claimed the bed and Alejandro slept on the couch we had shoved in front of the double doors. Aster and I slipped into quiet trances ensconced in the comfort of a pair of thickly cushioned chairs.
Dawn’s arrival shook me from my rest and I slipped from trance to prayers. By the time I was done the others had started to stir. We ransacked the room, taking everything we thought we could use. The two most important of these items in my eyes were the letter the evil Cleric had been penning when we interrupted her and the ring of keys she’d had on her. I would remember the name of Starweaver Bestra in the future and know her for a false cleric of Mystra should we ever meet.
The keys let me into the locked room. The others could not bear to accompany me, repelled by the stench of rotting flesh. Those victims of their schemes who had no magic seemed to be of little use to these clerics of Shar besides as entertainment. I have never truly understood the draw of watching another suffer, but I understood that their were people who did. These false Mystrans were clearly among them as the torture devices that filled the room were well used and poorly cleaned. Within I found the traveling papers of a good number of victims. Hopefully the purple dragons who patrolled the strangely open city beyond the temple doors would be able to use them to notify the ones who loved those who had been lost.
We resumed our trek back to the orb, climbing the statue dotted stairs without incident. The room which contained the glowing statue of Mystra was not as empty however. There we encountered rocky foulness drawn to this location from the plane of earth. I called upon Shaudakul to banish the abomination from my sight, and he answered, but the creature returned while I was exploring a path that lead to a befouled underground lake. I banished it once more and that was the last I saw of the creature.
My companions explored the living quarters of the priests of Mystra that had originally built this temple and we continued on to the room of pillars where the Orb was located. It was Alejandro who managed to pry the thing from its resting place and use it to free Mercedes, as he did so I contemplated the history of an object that was supposed to be resting in the hands of a statue of Shar far from here.
We returned to the main chamber and regained our belongings without seeing a single guard. As we exited the temple we searched for them and found them in their beds, dead of a poison I could not identify. Only the wizard who had handled the temple shows still survived. Half mad from fear, he was locked in his room. Apparently he had gone to sleep without finishing what should have been his final drink.
We sent him to the guard then followed more slowly. It was a good thing that we did not leave things to him as the guard had dismissed his claims as the ravings of a madman. The strange respect Aster received from the guard captain paved the way for our claims of innocence. As he was innocent and backed our stories clearly we were as well. The purple dragons sped off to examine the ruins of the false temple and we were left to reacquaint ourselves with Mhair.
A glimpse of Shadows
Mhair and I took the cleric of Shar to Saerloon. It was not a large journey, only six days of walking, but the others preferred to explore the various places on the map we’d recovered searching for clues to the true motivesof Shar’s followers. I was worried that rescuers would come for our captive, but it seemed that his fellows had either abandoned him or thought him dead. He did attempt to escape once, but Mhair conked him over the head quite firmly and ended the captive’s flight before it had even begun.
Mhair and I talked as we walked. He had traveled extensively, and knew much of Cormyr. I knew nothing of the place and was happy to learn from him. Our destination reinforced for me how little I knew and understood about my new surroundings. Never had I even imagined a city the size of Saerloon.
The temple of Mystra was the largest, fanciest edifice I had ever been inside of. I would have found it quite intimidating on my own, I felt certain that a mountain made by men could not withstand the rigors of a windy day. Mhair entered calmly, without any sign that this place was abnormal. I was forced to follow him or be left behind.
The clerics were both shocked and horrified by what we had found in Wheloon. They took our captive off of our hands and happily paid us the promised fee. I gave my share to Mhair and we went our separate ways. I have no idea where he went, and perhaps we will meet again. My path led to Soosdale.
The clerics of Mystra teleported me there, saving me quite a long walk. The temple of Selune that I sought was nearly as far from Wheloon as Saerloon and in the opposite direction. There I divested myself of the Starry Gnosis, giving the powerful artifact to those most capable of dealing with it- the clerics of Shar’s archenemy. From Soosdale I walked back to Wheloon. My companions were no longer there, however Constable Thull knew that they had headed out to a lizard encampment in the swamp and I found my three companions at the place marked “Tomb of Chonis” on our map. There I was introduced to the lizard folk and settled down to hear about their adventures in my absence.
Soon after I separated from them Alejandro received a letter asking him to meet the anonymous writer. He, Aster and Mercedes showed up for the rendezvous which turned out to be a trap. They defeated the assassins and found evidence that their foes had been hired to dispose of them in retribution for our activities in the temple.
By this time Archer had recovered from the beating he’d taken in the temple and the group decided to leave town for a while and started investigating the places on our map. The first location they visited was the one labeled “Unknown Shrine”. It was a small, round, ruined shrine on a hill that was temporarily inhabited by a pair of merchants. They camped with the merchants that night, were attacked by a troll, and continued down the path the next morning.
The merchants had given them some information about the next location on the map. They were quite upset about the presence of small, dark, hostile creatures in a place where they had been storing their goods. The “Tomb of Chonis” turned out to be a burial mound. The mound had been opened and inhabited by goblin like creatures. These were hostile enough that they had to be exterminated before the mound could be searched. It proved to be empty, except for the merchants’ goods which my friends returned.
At this point some of the assistance promised by the Cormyrans showed up in the form of a knight. The knight traveled with them farther into the swamp where a trio of lizard men attacked them. Alejandro managed to talk the lizard men into calling off their attack and negotiating instead. The lizard men turned out to have been trying to help. They thought my friends were dominated Mystran wannabees heading towards their doom. The place marked as “The Lost Refuge” on our map was an old ruined keep that was now under the control of Shar’s minions. A second lizard man tribe, one our lizard folk call the Shadowscales, had taken up residence near there and has been causing trouble. They attacked the lizard folk village while my friends were there, killing the knight and many lizard folk.
Aster was the hero of that battle defeating a grell and keeping both Alejandro and the lizard folk leader alive with his spells. They retreated with the lizard folk to the old barrow mound and established a temporary village. They also arranged for the return of the knight’s body to his order and peaceful trade between Wheloon and the lizard folk.
Shortly after Aster and Alejandro finished relating this story to me the lizard folk diggers managed to disturb a pair of Mummies. The monsters were defeated, but not before they managed to infect Aster with their rot. No one at the village could help him so we returned to Wheloon in search of a cure.
A glimpse of Shadows
Further exploration down the path taken by the victims from Wheloon led us into the lair of a hydra. This monstrous creature slaughtered and devoured Archer. He wasn’t really a friend, but he was a faithful companion while with us. I regret that I never learned his name. We retreated to Wheloon and leaned upon the Cormyrans for aid. In response they sent a cleric, a warmage, and the resurrected knight to accompany us.
I had never had the chance to meet Adric before he was slaughtered by the shadow scales, and had not expected him to rejoin the party, even if the Cormyrans restored him to life. I took a chance to study the man that Alejandro spoke of so scathingly and Aster referred to in such reserved tones. The knight was taller and heavier than either of my two male companions. He had a square jaw and short brown hair. His eyes were a pale green, like new grass. I had been informed that he was not a purple dragon, but he dressed like one. That probably had some meaning of which I was unaware.
Our new cleric was named Ivak. He was a worshiper of Torm, and wore his God’s gauntleted fist proudly. I do not know what color his hair was. He had shaved it off close to his skull and his bald scalp shone beneath the sunlight. He was dressed in Torm’s colors; grey and silver, steel and gold.
Temudgin Firesky was a small man, almost delicate and one of the few males I had ever met that I might refer to as beautiful. Sun bronzed skin framed his rich dark eyes. The warmage kept his thick black hair trimmed short but let his mustache grow long. He was clearly proud of his facial hair, and he certainly had reason to be proud of his entire appearance. He was the single most attractive man I had ever met.
Our newly enlarged party had no troubles with the Hydra and we proceeded on to the Refuge. There we faced a more difficult challenge as willow the wisps had alerted the keep’s defenders to our presence. Starweaver Bestra met her end there and we destroyed the altar to Shar that we found near the shadowy portal. We managed to save a few of the captured lizard folk and Ashara could not wait to be reunited with her beloved Kessessek. The previous leader of the lizard folk, Gathan, was among those we saved, but he had no desire to return to his people. All of those he loved had been slaughtered by the shadow scales and he desired nothing but their deaths.
I poked around the portal a bit and worked out how to use it. The room on the other side of the portal seemed like a dark mirror of the one on this side save for the large iron door. We decide not to forge on into that shadowy plane just yet. Instead we gathered our resources and waited for backup to arrive and hold this side of the portal. Once the lizard folk and a few Cormyrian’s arrived we proceeded through the portal to face what lay beyond it.
That which lay beyond had no desire to face us and let us know by pinning three dead lizard folk to the wall and writing us unlove notes in their blood. We insisted on an introduction anyway, and managed to defeat the horrific many armed lord of the shadow keep. We cleared the little island the keep was on from enemies and learned the use of the strange throne ensconced in the tower.
The lizard folk captives knew the path to the Shadowscale village and we walked it determined to eliminate their threat once and for all. It was a good thing that we were so determined. We faced the most horrendous battle I had ever partaken of in the twisted tunnels of the Shadowscale den. Gathan died there, slaughtered only moments before we defeated the Shadowscale chieftain. The lizard folk imprisoned there spoke with horror of the strange obsidian skinned creatures from the ebon dome. We escorted them back to their people and rested in the shadow refuge while trying to determine the best course of action to take from there.
A glimpse of Shadows
The shadow plane proved to be too much for Mercedes. She decided to leave us and return to Sembia. As she and Alejandro were from the same city there he sent her with a note for his parents. She would have a job waiting for her aboard his father’s merchant ships and his parents would know that he fared well. I watched him clip a lock of his hair and tuck it into the note he wrote his mother with some wistfulness. I had no family to whom I could send such a thing, No one waited anywhere worring about my safety. It was highly unlikely that anyone would ever even read this log of my adventures but I write it for my own use and for the clerics of my order should I fail in my duty to deal with these portals.
I bolstered my mood by reminding myself that father waited for me on Shandakul’s plane and tried not to think about it much while Adric, Ivek and Alejandro escorted Mercedes back to Wheloon. Aster, Temudgin and I remained behind to watch over the Shadow Refuge while our lizard folk allies and some of the Cormyrans watched over the lost refuge. We mended and repaired the ruins as best we could while we experiment with the bone boat Alejandro found near the dock and tried to determine the nature of the flora and fauna which surrounded us.
When the attack came it took us completely by surprise. A troop of horrific alligator creatures like the one that had guarded the Lost Refuge slipped silently out of the waters around the island. With them was an equally horrific tentacle faced creature which froze Aster with a single glance. Considering that the creatures were immune to all of our best spells, one of the things which had made our previous battle with the one in the Lost Refuge so difficult, there was nothing Temudgin or I could do for our friend. Instead we fled, warning the Cormyrans and the lizard folk and abandoning both Refuges behind us. Despite our desperate speed losses to the alligator creatures were terrible.
Alejandro and Ivak returned to find our little band of survivors huddled in the lizard folk village at the tomb of Chonis. Alejandro had brought me some lovely armor and Temudgin had recruited a friend to battle beside us. I had heard of Arthane before, but never met him. The handsome blond had once been a minstrel who traveled Vaasa with a noble paladin and chronicled his deeds. Now he was a warrior in his own right, doing good deeds of his own. He seemed like a good addition to our team. We would need plenty of swords to retake the Shadow refuge. Spells were growing less and less useful.
We slipped warily back into the Lost Refuge and faced a single one of the alligator creatures guarding the portal. It was no easy victory but we won through to the shadow side. Clearing the Shadow Refuge of enemies was almost the end of us, but the tentacle faced monstrosity seemed to have retreated elsewhere taking Aster with.
We proceeded up the path past the Shadowscale village and made our way to the monastery of the Ebon Dome. The edifice was mostly in ruins and as we climbed slowly towards the shattered dome we were set upon by flying gargoyle like creatures. These beings seemed to take a particular dislike to me, attacking repeatedly until Ivak managed to push a Searing Light spell through the resistance this plane offered to such magic.
Despite our expectations of further combat little awaited us within the ruins. It seemed to be nothing more than another stopping point on the journey taken by captives. Beyond the dome was another path which led in turn to a cottage on a precipice. The cottage was inhabited by a pair of creatures that resembled wolf men with humongous mouths and tentacle like tongues. I grow tired of the odd, horrific and hostile creatures of this plane, yet we never seem to reach the end of our path and the place to which the prisoners of the false Mystrans were taken.
From the cottage a rope bridge leapt out over the abyss into which the waters from the nearby swamp plummeted. The bridge clung tenaciously to an obsidian spire which housed a slender tower and a monstrous golem. At the base of the spire was a bone yard, which animated to attack interlopers.
Other bridges attached to the spire as well. It seemed to be a sort of hub. We moved off from it, wandering along Cliffsides inhabited by dusky skinned Shar worshipping beings and down into the Gorgon infested abyss. We found many signs of Cyric’s presence as well, though the followers of that dark god seemed as confused as to the true motives as the Sharites as we were.
Scattered across the cliff face we found strange bellows like engines, always guarded by clerics of Shar. Ivak set himself the task of destroying them, though we had no way of discovering their function. Despite the explosions that resulted each time one was collapsed Ivak would not be dissuaded from his task. He believed that anything so valued by Shar’s followers needed to be destroyed.
Addrick and Arthane were turned to stone by a Gorgon when we invaded their domain in the depths of the crevice. We had one single container of stone salve in our spoils. After much discussion we chose to use it on Arthane. As Addrick was a member of the Cormyran forces it seemed likely that the Cormyrans would restore him if we could just get his statue to them. This proved to be no boon to Arthane as he was torn asunder when the dragon attacked us.
We gathered his remains as best we could and found a place to huddle, plan and grieve. There seemed little we could do but go on and so we struggled onward past clerics that threw themselves onto altars so that tentacles abominations could explode out of them and libraries full of spell casting flaming skulls. The oddest thing we discovered was a series of altars, apparently devoted to Cyric, upon which the bodies of the evil creatures we had slain in this strange realm appeared and vanished.
We found the lair of the tentacles faced horror next, and the prisoners, Aster among them. As we battled the floating horror the prisoners fought free of their cages with the help of a large bear. The bear tried to help us by throwing chests full of the monster’s belongings at it, but the chests proved to be trapped. When the bear grabbed them it set off an area effect spell that killed all but three of the prisoners. Aster was the survivor who mattered the most to me. The bear survived and proved to be an exceptionally quiet Halfling druid. The final survivor was a [[half-drow archer]] whom I hope is friendlier and fares better than the last archer to travel with us.
Eventually we found our selves in a cave confronting a floating spiral of stairs leading downward. A strange grasshopper like demon guarded the two tunnels located below the stairs quiet effectively. He did not need the help of the strangely shrieking floating heads that accompanied him at all. Between the stinking clouds he summoned and the awkward terrain he was almost a match for us without them.
One of the tunnels led back to the library where we had first encountered the flaming skulls. The other led to the sanctum of the dragon called Despayr. He was a black dragon unlike any I had ever heard of. Instead of acid his breath was a sore causing darkness and he used no magic on us. Even his scales were odd, each inscribed with a glowing violet rune proclaiming him the chosen of the shadows.
He lived surrounded by suffering captives in tiny cages and roofed over by a strange darkness that made spell casting almost impossible. He cared nothing for the deaths of his captives, killing them himself when he felt it convenient. Ivek struggled to shape the stone walls to protect those poor sufferers from Despayr’s dark breath. I wished I could help him, but my best attempts were futile. All I could do was admire the force of will that allowed him to cast his spells in the presence of that darkness and wonder at the healing lights created by the deaths of the captives.
Despite all of this Despayr died and we claimed his only treasures, the captives he tormented in