Resting up after the battle with the dark creepers, the Hand of The Silver Flame took stock of their situation. The portal they had haphazardly barged through moments before appeared to be of the temporary sort, which meant that it was likely they were still within the walls of Ardev, or at least somewhere nearby. And from the looks of the passage leading up and away, through which the dark creeper had fled, the chamber they now inhabited was deep underground.
Deciding to ignore the only other exit (a heavy wooden door set in one wall) for now, the Hand decided to follow the dark creeper up the passage, in case he was going to alert more enemies. Luckily for them, the passage led to an open cavern with a sheer cliff face blocking any further ascent. It was effectively a dead end, and they found the dark creeper huddling in fear behind a stalagmite. The party decided to tie him up and interrogate him; he told them they would find Morda if they continued through the other doorway.
Glancing around for any items or passageways they might have missed, the party saw dark shapes looming on the ceiling above them, and made a hasty retreat back down the passage to avoid drawing more attention from the denizens of the cave. They made their way to the room with the portal, approached the heavy wooden door, and once again, barged through and into danger.
In the center of the room there was another portal, one with a much more permanent and powerful appearance, similar to the one they had found at Rivenroar. Unlike that one, however, this one appeared to be deactivated at the moment. Along one wall stood a portal like the one they had come through earlier, and another warehouse, likely somewhere else in Ardev, was visible on the other side. The friends they had come to rescue, Breogan and Oris, were tied to chairs near the portal.
A voice spoke to them from nearby, invisible. It was Morda, and he offered them a deal. Give him the stones, and the Hand of the Silver Flame would be free to leave; refuse, and all of them would die, starting with the two hostages.
It was not the kind of deal the Hand of the Silver Flame was accustomed to taking, and this case proved to be no exception. Jantry, who in an uncharacteristic display of ingenuity had prepared a dummy sack with two cobblestones tucked inside, tossed his deceptive prop across the room, while the others rushed in to free the two captives, who were battered and weakened from being tortured. Still invisible, Morda scooped up the fake stones and instantly realized he’d been duped. Screaming with rage, he vowed the Hand of the Silver Flame would soon meet their doom, a claim that was instantly backed up by a horde of terrible wraiths that emerged from the walls and set upon the heroes.
The party struggled to free the captives while fending off the powerful undead assault. The wraiths were shrouded in a vile necrotic aura that sapped the heroes’ will, and they found that their weapons had little effect on the vaporous, ectoplasmic foes. Breogan and Oris were freed after a few moments, and it looked like they might be able to escape, when the invisible Morda snuck up to Quinn and stole the two stones he had been carrying.
The heroes knew that Morda could use the stones he’d stolen to reopen the portal at Rivenroar and march an army into Breland. Retreat was no longer an option: this battle would end in victory, or in death. More than ever before, they were pushed to the edge of defeat, against foes that might drag them into the darkness of undeath itself, but the radiant power of the Silver Flame burned brightly within them all, and one by one they struck down the vile wraiths.
While the party was fighting for survival, Morda slipped one of the stones into the portal, activating it, hoping to flee into the shadowfell. Quinn managed to remove the stone, closing the portal and reclaiming it for the Hand, the rest of whom were busy finishing off the wraiths.
Finally, the last wraith was destroyed, and all of the members of the Hand had survived, some more worse for wear than others. Morda, however, had escaped into the Shadowfell and still held one of the crystals, which was shortly determined to be the stone that had activated the portal at Rivenroar. Getting to Rivenroar could take weeks, or days, even by airship, and no one knew what Morda could accomplish in that time. The Hand instead decided to follow him through the portal and hope for the best, pausing only to alert Elder Cadrick about the smuggling ring and teleportation portals they had uncovered.
Stepping through the portal, they found themselves in a strange realm of shadow and fire. But no enemy fortress or army of darkness greeted them on the other side. Instead, they found a rather large settlement, Umbraforge composed of various races, especially Shadar-Kai, cobbled rather organically on the slope of a semi-active volcano. The party donned their cloaks and tried not to attract attention while exploring the town.
It appeared that most of the inhabitants were merchants or mercenaries who had come from far and wide across the shadowfell, or from Khorvaire. The slave trade also thrived here, and the settlement was home to a foundry that created weapons. At least now they knew where those weapon shipments had been coming from.
Overlooking all of these criminal enterprises was a man called Sarshan, who basically ruled the entire town and who’s name the party recognized as being Morda’s old boss. Apparently, the two had had a falling out, and Mordawas on the run, after having tried to deal on the side. However, it proved impossible for the Hand of the Silver Flame to get an audience with the reclusive Sarshan, regardless of any news they had on Morda, and instead they were forced to track down their adversary the old fashioned way.
Over the course of a few days, the party managed to dig up quite a bit about where Mordamight be hiding, and as always, trouble seemed to follow on their heels. When investigating the slave camps (but unable to do anything about them at present), the Hand battled firey lava creatures that erupted from the ground after an earthquake. Later, when they infiltrated Sarshan’s mercenary training grounds, a handful of ogres attacked the heroes purely for sport, and they wowed the crowd when a full-scale battle ensued.
Finally, they discovered that Mordahad been planning on retrieving something from within the foundry; whatever it was, it would lead the Hand right to him if they could get it before he did, and they had recently gathered information to their advantage: while the foundry gate was always heavily guarded, part of the rear wall had recently been damaged during one of the more vigorous earthquakes, and that a small passage through had opened up which they might be able to squeeze through.
The Hand sneakily made their way over to the foundry and, with some difficulty, breached the outer wall. As they entered, however, they were greeted by the sounds of battle: Mordahad arrived with his strike team just moments earlier!