Dale Under Shadow

To Shadowdale

After spending some time resting and consulting with the wizards, priests and sages in Weyloon the Party discovered that the best source of information about the Book of Black they discovered that a copy of the book lay in the library of Elminster in Shadowdale - and was probably the only one outside the priesthood of Shar. The Party decided follow this clue to Shadowdale, in hopes of winning an audience with the legendary sage and learning more about the Book of the Black. Making preparations they started back along the long trek north to the Dalelands. The trip north was long but uneventful, save for the weather, which took a distinct turn for the wintry the more they moved northwards. As they eventually neared Shadowdale itself  they mounted a low rise in the trail, they spotted large amounts of smoke rising up from a clearing about a quarter-mile off the North Ride to the left.

Immediately deciding this needed investigation, Erik led the way off the main road, trudging through the snowy undergrowth in the forest surrounding the area. As the Party peered out from the trees, they looked upon a scene of devastation. A thorp consisting of four houses and a small mill, located along the banks of a swiftly flowing creek in the shadow of a oak-covered knoll, lay in ruins,  consumed by fire. A small band of ogres and a group of human mercenaries occupied the centre of the clearing. The bodies of unarmed dalesfolk lay scattered about the area. It was unclear if they were all dead, or if some were dying or unconscious. Immediately Erik leaped into action, charging forward issuing a challenge. Garn swiftly moved in support, charging forward and attacking one of the ogres. More cautious, Calita began edging her way round the nearest building, only find her route blocked by another of the mercenaries and an ogre. In the pitched battle that ensued, although it was touch and go for a while, the Party ultimately prevailed.

The enemy having been slain or fled the field, Erik and Calita turned to rescuing the surviving inhabitants of the small settlement which they learned was called Oakwood Knoll. To their horror they also learned that the mercenaries who had attacked the thorp were part of a Zhentarim army that had invaded just before the first snows started to fall, and were currently occupying Shadowdale.


Shadowdale Town

After resting up for a couple of days and helping the citizens of Oakwood Knoll recover form the brutal attack on their settlement, the Party eventually decided to head on towards the town of Shadowdale and set once more on the North Road. The weather was cold with occasional flurries of snow, but the road was clear enough as they trudged on.
Suddenly Garan noticed a dot in the sky moving towards them. They Party broke for cover in the trees either side of the road, but it seemed that they had been spotted  as a black robed mage astride a squat bloated, black, multi-jawed, winged, toad-like creature swooped down from the sky to hover before them. He greeted them  and demanded they state their business in Shadowdale. Erik stepped forward to explain they were to meet with Elminster, but seeing his garb was that of a paladin they mage sneered that that would not be possible as Elminster was "no more" and that Erik's "kind" was not welcome in Shadowdale - this was not going to end well!

In short order battle was joined, but to Erik's chagrin the mage held off attacking with spells from the safety of his aerial mount with the occasional flyby attack. Erik and Garan took cover in the trees as fireballs detonated around them.Only Calita was able to respond and engaged in a magical slug-fest with her opponent, eventually the enemy mage slumped in his saddle and the winged beast flew off to the east. Battered and bruised the Party returned to Oakwook Knoll to rest.

A couple of days later they decide to approach Shadowdale town cross-country from the south. They crossed the river with the help of the villagers and made their way northwards through the cover of the woods, eventually reaching the fields south of the town. As they walked up a lane they saw a large wooden warehouse-like building that appeared to be a barracks for Zhentarim troops and moved sharply east through a small wooded area to avoid it.

They made their way into the town, stopping at the General Store where they learned from the proprietor, a Chondathan called  Weregund, that rather than invading, the Zhentarim had been invited in by Lord Mourngrim after a mysteriousWeregund explosion had destroyed Elminster's tower, and presumably the Sage of Shadowdale himself, and that his castle, the Twisted Tower of Ashaba was their centre of power in the dale.

The Party moved on to the Old Skull Inn, which appeared to have largely been taken over by mercenaries, but a few sullen-looking locals were also present. The Party managed to secure rooms and soaked up the "atmosphere" which varied greatly dependent on whether you were a local or not! As he headed up to bed, Garan overheard two of the staff discussing something in hushed tones in the corridor and managed to hear a reference to "Oakwood Knoll" it seemed that word of the Party's actions there had reached town and at least by some were being received approvingly.

Next morning at breakfast, and noting that it was too early for any of the carousing mercenaries to be present. Garan and Erik approached the staff and revealed themselves as responsible for what had happened at Oakwood Knoll. Erik swore to help oust the invaders. The server seemed pleased that someone had struck a blow against the Zhentarim, but urged caution, She suggested it was too dangerous for them to remain in town and suggested they find a camp out in the countryside. She said that if they returned in a few days she would arrange for them to meet Jhaele Silvermane, the owner, who may be able to offer some support.

The Party left town early and spent some time scouting the woods to the north before Garan eventually decided on a good spot to pitch their tents and set up camp. It was near a ready supply of water from a small pool, and where the trees shielded them from oversight by any flying patrols.

As they rested that afternoon and pondered their next action, a glowing hand with it's forefinger extended to a point that was outlined with a shimmering silver aura, appeared over their campfire. Erik recognised it as a manifestation of Azuth. A dry echoing male voice then spoke:

"The Ghost Witch fades, her beloved's staff at last laid to rest. She was given eternal contentment when she was needed most by one who serves the Lady of Loss. Seek her ashes where those who sought justice found injustice; they are guarded by the scorched remains of that which she gave her life to slay. Let the sea rush in and drown it that dines upon Mystra's silver fire. Perhaps the eldest of the Seven can contain the unwinding, for there is power yet in her kiss."

Syluné's Gift

A couple of days later the Party headed into Shadowdale town to meet with the mysterious owner of the Skull Inn who turned out to be a woman called Jhaele Silvermane. With her extensive local knowledge she was able to help them interpret at least part of Azuth's mysterious message to them. The reference to "The Ghost Witch" was to Anastra Syluné Silverhand. She had been killed in con=bat with dragons, slaying three of them before dying herself, though Syluné then watched over the lands and the people she loved as a type of ghost called a spectral harpist. Her body's ashes were interred within her husband Aumry Obarskyr's grave near Watcher's Knoll some miles to the north east of the town.

The Party immediately set out trekking through the snowy wood, arriving a few hours later. Watcher’s Knoll turned out to be a large, wooded hill with an open clearing at the top. The clearing was dominated by a large plinth that had settled severely, so much so that it leaned dramatically to the north, and would be easy to climb for a good vantage point over the surrounding countryside. The only other feature of note was a huge, leafless oak tree about 40 feet away from the plinth.

As they approached however, the meaning of the lines in Azuth's message "guarded by the scorched remains of that which she gave her life to slay" became clear when a gargantuan skeletal dragon emerged from within the huge oak tree, now revealed to be an illusion. Not expecting such, the Party were woefully unprepared for such an encounter and barely escaped with their lives, returning wearily to their campsite to lick their wounds and plan a fresh assault.

They spent time recuperating and planning and when they returned to Watcher's Knoll, Calita summoned several earth elementals to aid their assault. This time, Garan, Erik and elementals battered the dragon skeleton into a heap of bones!

With the help of the elementals they removed the slab covering the tomb, noting that it had recently been disturbed, and descended down. Within, they found the tomb and the stone casket within, guarded by a magic-draining nishruu, who proved briefly troublesome before being despatched.Once the nishruu was defeated, Syluné freed from it's malign draining of her magic, manifested, into a ghostly shape taking her former appearance, seeming made entirely of silver fire, she regarded the Party and whispered:

“My time grows short, as Mystra calls me home, but I shall do what I can to contain the Unwinding of the Weave. I hope you shall use what time I can buy you to end Shar’s dark ritual and to free my beloved Shadowdale.
Take up the staff and cloak of my beloved and use them to throw off the shackles of the Black Network. There is a portal in the newly risen Castle Krag through which the Zhentarim can summon reinforcements. The Lady of Loss works her dark ritual in secret beyond the Grinding Gulf. Look to the Realms Below for a way into the heart of the Twisted Tower, but beware the remnants of Maerimydra. The dalesfolk shall rally to your cause
if you show them you are leaders worthy of the true pendant of Ashaba.”

She then bestowed a kiss upon each character, before transforming into a bubble of silver fire which expanded rapidly and vanished. Within the stone casket, which had previously seemed empty save for some bones and ashes, a staff and neatly folded cloak lay.