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July 18, 2006, 5:11 pm

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Umbral Fens & the Road to Chiaroscuro

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The Swollen Shadow’s magic is such, that anyone transported to its demi-plane, will always first arrive in the somber and hazy Umbral Fens, which surround the City of Shadow. After some searching one may find the Brittle Road, which leads through the shadow-choked swamps, to the City proper.

Centuries passed, since the Swollen Shadow’s Arrival, and still it casts a pall upon the land. Three hundred years since the coming of the shadows and the dimming of the light. The Swollen Shadow coalesced with the umbra of its new environment, and withdrew into the perpetual gloom, while at the same time blanketing the skies, allowing only enough trace of light to help maintain its essence. The task of molesting the remaining human population, tainted by the Shadow as they were, fell to the obscene creature’s myrmidons, the Haints, or the Seeping Eyes, as named by the terrified populace. The Shadow’s lieutenants walked, flew and crawled among the dusk and twilight of the cobbled streets, seeking to extinguish the last remnants of futile rebellion or escape. As the darkness seeped from their eyes, it mingled with the muted shadows, and with their master settling over the city like a great dark-gray cloud, the survivors of the destruction were plunged into a new age of despair. The Haints then returned to their progenitor, flowing back into the “warm” folds of the Swollen Shadow’s fetal Umbral Clot to await its further commands.

Yet life perseveres, and did so here as well. People survived the initial devastation, and those that did, changed over the years to adapt to their gloomy new environment. The taint of the Swollen Shadow permeated their flesh, but did not slay them all outright.

In the course of their penumbral existence, they have almost lost their sight and have practically forgotten the knowledge of fire- an element they consider dangerous due to its powers of attracting the wrong kind of attention. There near loss of sight has been replaced by a perfected sense of touch, which allows them to sense things at a distance. Additionally, just as shadows move faster than the objects which cast them, so too have the people learned to move faster than before, slinking, skulking, and darting among the gloom like two-dimensional silhouettes. In fact,  Silhouettes is what the people call themselves now, as they attempt to steer clear of the True shadows. Their faces are gray and unpleasant to look at, like tattered old parchment and their clothes are all of dead, neutral colors. Observers of the Silhouettes, most commonly mention that the forms appear at the edge of their field of vision, and that they disintegrate or move into walls when noticed, usually within a split second. However, many also claim that they appear in the center of their vision, very close to them, or remaining for several seconds before disappearing.

No one can directly enter in or out of the City of Shadow, except the Haints and the Swollen Shadow. All others who stumble upon this lamentable place, either through magic or by sheer fate, first appear outside the city, in a near-umbral mockery of a once lush land. After becoming accustomed to the surroundings, one can spy the muted outlines of a once-proud and prosperous city in the distance and a road underfoot. Some three-quarters of a mile along the road, the landscape becomes surreal. The oleanders, wheat, and ferns start to fade. The ground, at first dark-green and soft, becomes dull and dark, as if a rain of ashes had fallen upon it. The sunless sky turns darker gray, and melancholy will settle on the traveler. Another mile along this desolate road, which winds towards the city, there lies a motionless, black lake of warm water, surrounded by a muddy shore and, unbeknownst to the traveler, infested with blind gharials. The people of the City of Shadow have a gruesome relationship with this lake. Due to the mind-altering effects of the Swollen Shadow’s presence, the people falsely believe that beyond this lake there is only utter darkness and death. They themselves will never venture beyond its borders. Because of this limited space and their hostile environment, the Silhouettes have a rigid and tragic system of population maintenance. Whenever a child is born, the oldest or weakest of the family is taken to the lake and thrown into its murky depths, soon to be devoured at leisure by the submerged gharials. Though brutal in execution, the Silhouettes deem this behavior necessary for survival. The shores of the lake, are inhabited by the even more dangerous Swamp-Lurkers, giant shadow-gharials, more severely affected by the Swollen Shadow’s Taint than their lake-swimming brethren, and significantly deadlier.

Surrounding the lake is a moist, darkened landscape, inhabited by some bizarre lifeforms that call the Umbral Fens home. What first appears as a forest of stunted, cancerous birch trees, will reveal themselves to be craetures of fungusm the White-Ones.

Elsewhere chittering bands of dreaded Shadow-Lepers swarm and swirl, chittering and searching for pray.

Leaving the lake, the road circles in on itself and then once more, leads on to the City of Shadow. It is near this loop where, if one searches, a hill-cave can be found, crawling with blackened ivy and shadow-master lilies, not far from the side of the road. More of a gap in an earthen mound, than a cave, it leads to an underground grotto, from which a torturous earthen tunnel leads for one mile to and from the city. The Haints and the Swollen Shadow are not aware of this cave. The cave is not completely empty. Lying in the darkness are two human skeletons, one robed, and one obviously covered in rust dust. These are the remains of a once infamous band of adventurers, who called themselves Nayer’s Slayers. Seven in all, the Slayers discovered this forsaken land after killing a Lichling and finding a Thurible in its hoard, which transported them to the Domain of the Swollen Shadow. Of the seven one, Ravenscream, perished in the struggle with the Swollen Shadow and its minions. The SS itself engulfed two others, Thela and Nayer, and using its Taint, changed them into dreaded Haints. Fairhog, Gazzo Sleep-Eye, Vars Bandyleg, and Abroin the mage escaped. Only Gazzo the thief truly escaped however, fleeing into the haze of the magical smoke seeping from the Farsmoke Thurible, returning to his own world again. Fairhog Vars and Abroin, did not reach the Thurible in time and fled into the surrounding gloom-filled fens, stumbling upon the cave, and evading their pursuers by sheer luck. Their luck didn’t last long, as the two were found and slain soon enough by a pack of Nupires, Vampires’ Shadows. All that is left now are their bones and trappings.

Abroin lies truly dead. Fairhog however, has arisen as a maddened Shadow-Spectre, a terrible creature, which haunts the Tunnel beneath the Umbral Fens, and watches over the remains of his erstwhile companion.

The road above the barrow tunnel, eventually nears the city proper.

Several species of strange flora, which grow in the Umbral Fens, can be found in The Shadow Toybox.

Many creatures of the Shadow Bestiary can be found in the Umbral Fens, along the Road, and inside Chiaroscuro itself.

Shadowsinks These hazards appear more often inside the city proper, than in the surrounding Umbral fens. These are, nearly impossible to detect black holes, littering the cracked streets like mines on a battlefield. Anyone stepping on these 2-3’ diameter potholes, immediately sinks and becomes immersed in shadowstuff. Being in this substance is akin to the feeling of being stuck inside hardened gelatin. These pits are usually long and wide enough to accomodate two humans on the average. Any PC caught in a shadowsink slowly begins to suffocate in its umbral cocoon. The victim, however will suffoctae at an incerdibly slow pace, for such is the malevolent essence of the Swollen Shadow’s creations. This allows plenty of time for a Haint to investigate the latest “catch”, and potentially pull the rasping victim free, if this so suits the purpose of the Swollen Shadow. Furthermore, to all shadow creatures of the city, there is no danger from misstepping among a terrain of shadowsinks. To shadow beings, immersing inside one of these pits, is like the feeling of being inside the womb, or so claim the Silhouettes. Much to the annoyance of the Haints, the shadowsinks are often filled with creatures of shadowstuff, wallowing in embryonic pleasure. It becomes apparent quickly that only ‘outsiders’ can accidentally step into a shadowsinks and get stuck, like the proverbial flies in amber. The shadowsinks also have a more insidous purpose. Every time a creature “falls” into a shadowsink, the Swollen Shadow and the Haints are alerted. To them, the shadowsinks function as nerve endings on a neural web. Like a spider, that senses the vibrations of an intruder, so does the Swollen Shadow senses those that get trapped in its shadowsinks.

Akill of the Impure Strive Among the foreboding glooms of the Palace of Broken Columns, as the Haints refer to the former Royal Abode of the King and Queen, dwells the Swollen Shadow. Its essence seeps throughtout the entire pocket-plane, but here its essence lairs, in a coloseum of umbra and crumbling marble. If the PCs meet the Abomination here for a final confrontation, a disheartening surprise greets them, alongside the Swollen Shadow. Akill of the Impure Strive, one of the six Lichling Simulacrums of the fabled and feared Arch-Lich Arprat N’Moomzie, is visiting the Swollen Shadow at the present time, and for reasons about to be revealed, aids the SS in its struggle against the PCs.
Akill of the Impure Strive, was the very Lichling Nayer’s Slayers “vanquished” all those years ago, in order to acquire a mythical Farsmoke Thurible fragement. The Lichling was not slain outright however, and eventually its lich-dust found its way to the foul creature’s phylactery, allowing the Lichling to reassemble over time. Now, as the PCs are unfortunate enough to choose this time to arrive on the scene, Akill is present. The creature used divination for many years to learn of its stolen Thurible’s whereabouts, and then, being without the very object that for milennia had allowed the Lichling plane travel, used considerably taxing personal magic to transport itself to the Swollen Shadow’s pocket-plane domain. Upon arrival, Akill assessed the scene, sized up his adversary, and quickly and wisely decided against a full assault against this queer, bloated thing of primal shadow, and its legions of minions. Akill decided on diplomacy, and at the very moment the PCs first appear on the Road to Chiarascuro, began conversing with the umbral creature, seeking mutual gratification.
For its part, the Swollen Shadow has no intention of giving away anything to a lesser creature, even if it did bleat on and on abouts its power and its most noble Sire. The Swollen Shadow is however entertained in its own alien way, by the Lichling, and for the time being allows it to bleat, perhaps sensing at least an iota of kinship with another creature that is deathless.
Akill of the Impure Strive meanwhile, contemplates its next move, in this deadly chess game, while, in his mind, mollifying and soothing the Swollen Shadow with honeyed words. Drained form the cross-planar spell he cast to get here, Akill is not at full strength, and bides his time for now. Seeing PCs however, “Living-Ones”, enrages Akill, and he gladly attacks, both as a false show of alliance for the Swollen Shadow’s benefit, as well as to release some of his own frustration, at finding his relic Thurible fragment, but being unable to retrieve it from this monstrously powerful shadow nemesis. There is a small chance, depending on the situation and the PCs tactics, that Akill might choose instead to side with the PCs against the Swollen Shadow, figuring with their help a greater foe can be defeated. In this scenario, Akill has every intention to kill the PCs too, but will first convince them, to help him defeat the “greater evil”, giving them promises of riches and benevolence on its own part, (or anything else Akill thinks the PCs want to hear) if their combined attack is successful, and the Swollen Shadow’s forces are destroyed or banished.



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Comments ( 2 )
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Voted Mourngrymn
August 8, 2006, 10:27
0xp
This is another great tie in to the rest of the mass of Swollen Shadow codex.

The description of the change in the landscape from semi normal to obviously something wrong is detailed enough to cause anyone to question why they are there. The Shadowsinks are probably my favorite obstacle here as it is more torture then the death of the victim and is classic. I think Akill could have been its own sub and only hinted at here, but that is just me.
Voted valadaar
April 21, 2014, 11:26
0xp
Hmm, lots of interesting stuff in this one, though there are improvements to make in format, typos and organization. Has it really been 8 years since 2006?

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