The Shadar-kai witch’s account of events ancient and recent in the Sea of Shadows was informative, but did not point to any next course of action to disrupt the schemes of Paldemar the rogue Wizard and cultist of Orcus. Everyone was in support of Elana’s proposal to go back down there onto the bridges at the foot of Denoa’s tower and see what could be done. The group were able to persuade Denoa to perform the rite that gave her the power to see in total darkness and then accompany them, in order to be able to warn them if the Shadow Dragon or any wraiths or spectres were to come in on the attack.
And so the adventurers set forth, back down the stair from Denoa’s tower and onto the bridges. A matter of two hundred paces away over the spiderweb-like bridge system was the watery vortex of the shadow crossing to the realm of the Shadowfell, and arranged about it a number of the great minotaur-shaped Bronze Warders and in a ring about the vortex itself, six undead Shadow Binders and the six Mages of Saruun whom they had bound by their dark power and whose life forces were no longer their own, but were marshalled by the Shadow Binders to power the incipient ritual.
A metallic song like the steady booming of brazen horns grew in their ears as they pressed closer with nervous tread.
Eventually Wjizzo edged to within ten strides of the nearest Bronze Warder and the feylight emanating from him illuminated its broad back for all of them to see. The automaton was posed with its back to them as it faced the vortex, the haft of its greataxe planted on the ground and its bull-like muzzle raised in an endless call. Wary of the drop into chill water on either side, and with weapons bared they chanced a small noise and then a louder one, but the Warder seemed oblivious to their presence.
Elana inched forward, and the Warder remained stock still even as she came right up behind it and then sidled round its great leg, careful not to actually touch it. Clear on the other side she gave a theatrical bow and beckoned the others to follow suit. One by one they picked their careful way past as the Warder continued in its droning song, until Wjizzo came past and the next Warder was revealed, only a dozen yards beyond the first.
They felt exposed, with a Warder before them and a Warder behind, but the only way was onwards. Passing the second one like the first, they reached the inner circle of bridges itself, and beheld now the shapeless black forms of Shadow Binders hanging just above the surface of the bridges each with the naked, inert form of a man wrapped in their clutches. Denoa announced that she could now see the Shadow Dragon, Sjach-haurach, clinging almost bat-like just around the curve of a stalactite far above, but giving no more sign of reacting to their presence than any of the eerie instruments of Paldemar’s ritual.
With Denoa standing by to give the alarm the moment the dragon abandoned its perch, and Wjizzo with the Orb of Indisputable Gravity ready to invoke its power as soon as he could see his target, the others took positions.
Cram stood ready to wrest the mage from the monster’s grasp, and Varris drew forth the Orb of Light. He called on the power of the Raven Queen to Turn the Undead, seeking to force it back into space, but the Shadow Binder’s monstrous will was too great. It shimmered briefly with pearlescent light but then with a horrific shriek that they felt as much as heard, flexed the darkness about it and extinguished the light.
“Dragon!” shrilled Denoa, pointing upwards into the darkness penetrable only to her.
Cram dove in to heave on the mage with a wrestler’s grapple, but the Shadow Binder’s power outmatched even his mighty strength. Then the knowledge came to Varris that if he could not push the Binder away, as a sworn foe of the undead he might use the the Orb to draw it on to him and enact the eternal struggle between right-death and the abomination of undeath. The Orb flashed again, brighter than before and he quailed for a moment at the monster’s power, but he redoubled his elven will and was rewarded with another horrific shriek as the Shadow Binder abandoned its victim and launched itself at him. Before he could even raise his guard it was on him, and enveloped him in a grasp both of the body and the spirit. Varris felt something in him depart and knew his strength was feeding the horror that was upon him, but in the throes of a waking nightmare he was powerless even to cry for help.
They heard an oddly soft oncoming rush from above, and then the Shadow Dragon broke into the feylight, fangs glinting darkly in a maw already agape in readiness for its more fearsome attack. But Wjizzo unleashed the power of the orb, Elana loosed her arrow and Surina shot an Eldritch Blast, and the dragon was abruptly pulled downward from the trajectory of its attack dive and into the water of the Sea of Shadows.
Cram set the mage on the stones of the bridge and swept his fullblade out of its scabbard, high over his head and arcing down into the tenuous substance of the Shadow Binder, a couple of perfectly judged inches from Varris’s face.
Below them, the swirling water was carrying the dragon away around the curve of the vortex, but its head erupted from the surface with a roar of frustrated anger and it raked a wave of chill unlight spilling from its jaws to rake over all the party on the bridge. Defying this onslaught, magic missile and eldritch blast lanced out at the Shadow Binder, vanishing into its dark form. And the sword of Cram hewed at it, a volley of blows meeting no resistance as they ripped through it again and again, and then Varris was falling to the ground as the Shadow Binder abandoned its prey and rose up into the air paling and fading as it spiralled upward and then was no more.
The surface of the water chopped and thrashed as the submerged dragon struggled. Elana said she could not aid the fallen mage as he was drained of all strength, but Wjizzo took his hand and by the power of the Belt of Sacrifice gave the mage of his own strength. A globe of utter darkness appeared in the air even as Elana exhorted the mage back to consciousness. But the dragon was somehow unable to shadow port its way back aloft, and the turn of the vortex took it away from them. As they hastened away they heard a last inrush of water as the dragon was gone from this world.
Having rescued one of the Mages, they had denied the ritual of one of its six power sources so that even if Paldemar could send a final two Bronze Warders that he presumably planned, it would still be impossible to complete.
The Mage of Saruun said his name was Hasifir. They took him back to Denoa’s tower, where she found some black garb to dress him in and ladled out more of the brew from her cauldron for everyone. But she herself, now that her position of non-intervention against Paldemar was broken, feared his retribution against her and the coterie of little ones who served her. The party pointed out that with a way back to the upper reaches of the Labyrinth not only open but traversable in safety, she could climb high enough on the Thunderspire to be able to perform a Shadow Portal ritual and return to the Shadowfell without arriving in the depths of Lake Night.
The adventurers felt the ritual sufficiently disrupted that they could now carry the fight to Paldemar himself. When question, Vadriar confirmed that when the lines were drawn in the minotaur civil war, Taurus Zabath fended the Orcus-worshipping Tzaruum’ze back from the Sea of Shadows, but to do so had to sacrifice his defence of the Palace. Tzaruum’ze was known to have reconsecrated the palace chapel into a Shrine of Undeath dedicated to Orcus. It seemed all the more certain that Paldemar must indeed have ensconced himself in the Palace of Zaamdul.
“All we have to do then,” said Varris grimly, “is fight our way through the undead skirmishing all through the tunnels leading to the Palace, and fight our way in there.”
Then Vadriar slapped his forehead. “The key!” he exclaimed. "I had to evade your questions before, for fear that my shadow would slay me. But the Silver Key was known to allow the minotaur priest-kings easy access to and from the Labyrinth. It leads to a secret chamber just off the entrance road, linked by some magic to the chapel itself.