Fed up with Fluffy’s constant disobediance, Bressal Steelhoof decided to sell him to an eccentric stablemaster in Overlook. After he and his companions chained the rage drake to a post outdoors in preparation of showing him to his new owner, the group was beset by the local thieves’ guild – the Lost Ones. After soundly thrashing them, Radir Vazulam asked them why they’d been singled out – as three well-armed mercenaries, they couldn’t possibly have seemed like easy marks. The one they’d left conscious quickly answered that they were hired to retrieve a brass key in the group’s possession. However, the man could give them little more than the employer’s name: Modra.
Bahrash Warsteel suggested asking around about Modra, and soon they were able to uncover some valuable intel: Modra was a dark creeper, working as the front man for an illegal arms dealing operation. Word had it that he’d met with a shadar-kai woman in the past, who seemed to fit the description of Myrissa. If this was true, then it made Modra an individual of great interest.
However, he had covered his tracks well. For all the people the Triage had quizzed, none of them seemed to know where to find him. As luck would have it, the answer sought them. A woman named Reniss caught up to them after overhearing them asking about Modra. She revealed that the Farstriders’ warlock, Jen, was her sister – and that the last thing she’d heard from her was that name, whispered through their set of sending stones.
Though it pained him to do so, Bahrash informed the woman that Jen had perished in the Nexus, her body lost in the boiling water that now sealed it. She was shaken at the news, but it was plain to see that she had expected it, and she took comfort in the fact that at least her remains were safe from the degradation of orcs. In gratitude, she told them about another dark creeper who’d been able to point her towards the Happy Beggar almshouse, Modra’s last known location. He also said that someone else was hunting him, and likely looking to kill him.
The Triage set to work, swiftly locating the Happy Beggar. There, they met the acquaintance of an old man who claimed to have heard of Modra – he was a retired adventurer with experience hunting dark creepers. He cautioned them against making any bargains with him; Modra was just a backstabbing thug who needed to be put down.
Aside from this helpful patron, no one in the joint seemed to know this Modra, so the Triage took matters into their own hands and searched the building top to bottom, finding an underground passage in the cellar. After muscling their way through a swarm of shadowhunter bats and a shadar-kai witch with talents not unlike Myrissa’s (bearing a copy of their brass key), they came upon a room lined with white marble, bearing an arch in its center with swirling darkness within. Modra stood before it, as through trying to activate it.
For Kord! screamed Bressal, but his axe swung too late as the dark creeper seemed to vanish into thin air. He spoke a soft incantation, and in response, the chamber filled with a half-dozen wraiths. The Triage had difficulty splitting their attention between so many combatants, especially since Modra seemed to prefer skirting the edges of the room and letting the shades do his work for him.
The draining touch of the wraiths passed easily through armor and shield, and soon the warriors found themselves in dire straights. Modra offered them an easy out: hand him the key and he would call off the undead. With little other choice, they disregarded the old man’s warning and forked it over, only to watch the smug bastard escape through the arch after using the key to activate it. Luckily, they still had the second key dropped by the witch, so they followed, wrath blurring their vision.
On the other side, they found themselves in an obsidian reflection of the marble shrine, which led out onto a dark hillside. The landscape that greeted them was foreboding indeed: gloom-choked skies, blighted valleys, and a fiery volcano standing astride a mighty keep. Between them and the crimson mountain lay a vast camp swarming with activity, and a smoke-spewing foundry nestled beside it.
As they slowly hiked down a switchback trail, they quickly ascertained that it was a camp of mercenaries, populated with ogres, shadar-kai, dark creepers, and several mortal races. Radir observed that this meant they could easily blend in with the crowd, pretending to just be three more sellswords. The plan worked better than expected, and they easily made their way through the camp, picking up useful tidbits of intelligence from those they spoke with. It seemed that the one they sought worked for a man named Sarshan, at least until he betrayed his employer to make some quick gold by selling weapons to Tusk against his master’s wishes. In the Vale, he often went by the moniker “The Emissary.”
Their first target was the foundry, which they infiltrated through a neglected hole in the eastern wall. As their eyes adjusted to the overwhelming crimson light from the river of magma set in the floor, they beheld a group of shadowgoblins led by Modra himself. The enemies shouted in surprise, quickly turning their attention to the Triage as Modra opened a strange vat on the far wall, freeing a monstrously-sized two-headed boar (as they would later discover, the foundry was devoted to creating creatures, not weapons).
The monster gave Bressal a rough time, but soon enough the heroes learned to use the terrain to their advantage by shoving the beast into the lava. With the toughest of the combatants out of the way, the diminutive Modra was easily dealt with.
One threat was ended, but Sarshan was still a clear and present danger to the Vale, as it was by his authority that Modra had stirred up Sinruth and the Red Hand. After taking a breather, Radir found a secret door in the back of the facility which no doubt led to Sarshan’s keep. The Triage rushed boldly into the fortress, emerging in a library guarded by a small group of elite shadar-kai warriors, completely bewildered at the sudden, unexplained appearance of a minotaur, eladrin, and dragonborn.
One of them activated a trap, and the walls began firing shadowy darts into the room that seemed to pass through the guards harmlessly. Unable to deactivate it, the three decided instead to press onward to the next room, though they had far from eliminated the current group of foes. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as the door they chose led them to a huge dining hall where another handful of guards were eating their supper. Now they had twice as many enemies to deal with! Bressal roared in fury, but even with the Invulnerable Coat, he simply didn’t have the power to oppose so many.
Miraculously, the guards didn’t finish them off. Rather, the heroes were brought to the top of the tallest tower, where Sarshan himself would decide their fate. As they were roused from unconsciousness, they found themselves free from ropes or shackles, and still in possession of all their weapons and gear. However, they were in no shape to fight – it was all they could do to stay awake.
To their amazement, the old man from the tavern walked up, and the shadar-kai guards saluted him. The Triage watched, dumbfounded, as his scarred skin dulled to gray and his eyes became shrouded in shadow. “I am Sarshan,” he said. “I assume someone has an explanation for this?”
One of the guards rattled off a military-style report, listing the areas the Triage had infiltrated, along with the number of dead and wounded. Sarshan’s scowl deepened as he considered the casualties, until Modra was listed among them. He looked upon the three with sudden recognition and wonder.
“You are, quite literally, the last people I ever expected to see here. The charges leveled by my captain warrant torture and death. However, I am told that an episode of sabotage in my foundry appears to have been thwarted, and that the traitorous Modra has been executed by persons unknown. It was you, wasn’t it?”
Sarshan continued, his tone remaining businesslike in spite of his captives’ peril. “As far as you’ve managed to infiltrate my operations, I can only assume you know a little of who I am. My wealth and reputation turn largely on honor, obligation, and secrecy. When I spoke to you of Modra, I hoped you would kill him and save me the risk of more exposure than he had already caused by consorting with those careless orcs. The fact that you journeyed here to do the job is a surprise, but for your part in ending his threat to me and whatever he meant to do in the foundry, I am in your debt. However, for your role in the death of my personal guards, you are more greatly in mine. Here is a bargain that balances the obligation for all of us: join me.”
Even wounded and cornered, Bahrash balked at the offer, wondering why an arms dealer would be so interested in hiring a paladin and his companions.
“Your skill at arms is clearly first rate. I offer you a place to use and advance that skill. Moreover, I offer you a place where you might live long enough to enjoy the fruits of your bravery. In a month, or six, or a year, your world will be a place you will not want to live. Join me here instead.”
Radir furrowed his brow, his emerald eyes betraying the fear in him upon hearing Sarshan’s words. “I know of no troubles that extend beyond Elsir Vale. What is this ill fate that you portend for the entire world?”
The villain placed his hands behind his back, pacing as he deflected the warlord’s question. “Though I am nicely positioned to take advantage of these things, I know relatively little yet. What I do know, I cannot share for professional reasons, but trust me when I say that you do not want to know. Name your choice, friends.”
Bressal spoke for everyone when he spat at the arms dealer’s feet.
Sashan’s dark eyes blazed, but he smiled as he shook his head. “Your conviction is to be commended. A pity it failed you in the end.” Then suddenly, an ear-splitting explosion shook the tower. Near the eastern side of the chamber, one of Sarshan’s guards shouted that the foundry was in flames! In the end, Modra’s attempt at sabotage was successful, though slow to act.
The guards began running about, Sarshan all but ignoring the Triage as he barked orders. One group was sent to the foundry, and another received orders to keep the mercenary camps under control. Sarshan ordered a last squad of chainfighters with him as he moved for the lift. In the confusion, the trio summoned the last of their strength and struggled to their feet, drawing their weapons.
Before leaving, Sarshan caught a glimpse of the Triage. He knew by the look in their eyes they would end his schemes or perish in the attempt. With a sigh of frustration, he interposed his lieutenant, Thannu (and his two pet panthers), between himself and his would-be executioners. With a voice as cold as midnight, he called out, “If I was as cruel as my reputation implies, I would send you back to watch your world die. Be thankful that I am merciful. Thannu: kill them.”
Elsewhere, an elderly man washed a set of dishes. Pelor preserve me, he thought, I never would’ve thought it’d be so hard to look after the poor before I came here. He thought of his adventuring days (now long behind him), and how serving the cause of goodness and mercy seemed so much simpler with a sword than it did with a ladle. Still, he and his wife were far too old these days to be much good as paladins. Running the Happy Beggar in their retirement was far from relaxing in a city so choked with poverty, but it was the right thing to do.
The man’s wife appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “Prashant?” she called.
“Our guests tell me that three armed men came in here earlier?”
Prashant thought for a moment. “Ah, that’s right. I saw them earlier. Nice folk, however scary they looked. They just talked with one of the old vets, that’s all.”
Ausma put her hands on her hips. “Well they’re saying they went into the basement!”
“Rubbish! Why would they go down there? We put a sign up…”
“Just go down there and make sure they didn’t steal anything! You know as well as I do that you can’t trust everyone who comes in here!”
Prashant threw down the dishcloth in exasperation and hurried to check the cellar, if only to appease his wife. As he brought his old, flickering lantern down the stairs, he glanced around, quickly deciding that everything was still in its proper place. But just as he turned to leave, he saw the door that used to lead to the sub-basement hanging open.
“Odd. Should be locked up,” he muttered to himself. When Prashant and Ausma first bought the building from its previous owners, they’d been told that an earthquake long ago had sealed up that passage, and indeed the door seemed to hide nothing more than a short hallway ending in a great pile of rocks when first they’d opened it. Prashant chuckled to himself as he tried to imagine why three mercenaries would possibly want to sneak into his basement just to have a look at the dead-end under his establishment. “Probably thought they’d found themselves a dungeon!” he laughed, thinking of his younger days when no call to adventure needed to make sense. To satisfy his curiosity, he shined the light one more time into the disused tunnel, only to be confronted with the impassable pile of rubble. Same as always, he thought, closing the door and locking it.
It was too bad that Prashant’s lantern was too dim, and his eyes too old to see the secret door standing slightly ajar not fifteen feet from his nose. If he had, perhaps the people of the Vale would know of the Triage’s story, and how they made the ultimate sacrifice to keep the Elsir Vale safe. Thanks to them, Modra was slain, the foundry was destroyed, and the mercenary camp scuttled.
Sarshan’s goals were shattered, but his campaign against the Vale was not over.