The Real Deal…
The Swollen Shadow has long been imprisoned within the confines of Chiaroscuro. It was its plan to see the city destroyed in a very short time, and it\‘s pact with said city rendered void by its end. Yet the plan failed and the Swollen Shadow was left stuck in place over a city it cannot destroy. It could not strike at the hated Queen\‘s jewel, and its Haints and shadows could not harm it and was left at a stopping point. Yet a new hope came in the guise of Nayer\‘s Slayers.
The Swollen Shadow pondered in its nebulous bulk, the possibilities of outsiders. These would be heroes were strong, well prepared and organized, yet they had fallen to it\‘s actions and plans. Such foolish mortals could very well be manipulated to its own ends. The Shadow thus embarks on a new mission to draw such heroes to Chiaroscuro to break the power of the jewel and release it from its bondage. It is also careful in those it views as it has no desire to face a greater foe and be banished back unto the umbral hell that spawned it.
The Shadow\‘s first fruit was the collective art movement of tenebrism, which was in large part inspired by the Shadow\‘s efforts and manipulations of the \‘escaped\’ Gazzo Sleep-Eye. Gazzo never knew that the shard of darkness that he carried, that dark spark that let him put on his paltry shadow plays for copper bits, was actually a fragment of the Swollen Shadow itself. The Shadow found fertile soil in the psyches of the Artists, who were inspired by Gazzo, and would pass on a bit of the Shadow\‘s taint when he taught Dandolo a bit of Shadow Magic. This taint grew and spread as the magic was bandied back and forth in the back room of the Dark Cormorant tavern. In some, the taint weakened, such as the devout Nurteax twins, but in others it flourished.
The Plague of Shadow Magic
The darkest secret of Shadow Magic is that it draws upon the very essence of the Swollen Shadow itself, and to use this power, to cultivate it, is to increase the power of the taint. Those who know this magic are known to the Shadow, and if they become too powerful in it, they can be alternately slain by the Shadow, or spontaneously rise as a full-blown Haint. With this spreading of taint, the Shadow gets a glimpse, a tantalizing taste of the outside world. It tastes, it likes, and it wants more…
Enter the PCs, and the Shadow will have had some observing of the PCs before it leaves its lure to find them. The bait should be suitable for the PCs, such as playing upon themes of greed for the most part. It really wants the PCs to steal the jewel, but it also wants to be sure that in stealing the jewel it doesn\‘t give the PCs their ultimate weapon to defeat it. As a safe guard, it also has no interest in allowing the Arpat lichling to be reunited with its component Farsmoke Thurible fragment. Besides, the SS needs the thurible as a vessel to draw victims in to it, and to send its agents out. The Shadow has yet to figure out how to use it to move itself, but at this point, it cannot.
The Road to Chiaroscuro
The Brittle Road, the PCs, if they have a lick of sense, will investigate what they can about this City of Shadows. Several investigative rolls and associated role-playing (consulting sages, shadowmancers, wizards and the like) reveals the ancient and lost history of Chiaroscuro. Once it was a great city and was lost in a cataclysm of mystery. One day it was there, the next it was quite simply gone. This should have an Atlantean atmosphere, with just as many leads being red herrings, dead ends, or misdirections. The other half should be cryptic and vague.
The Smoking Road, or the Thurible can lead the PCs to the edge of the Umbral Fen. Being an extra dimensional object, the Thurible exists both in the cave where the last of the Slayers made their stand before being slaughtered by the shadows of vampires. The PCs pass through the smoking door and enter the fens. They must now cross the fens, contend with the gharials, shadow swarms, and other monsters therein.
The Broken Gate, or the threshold of Chiaroscuro. The way into the city is easy, no thing of stone or iron can keep minions of the shadow away, only the ruddy glow of the Queen\‘s Gem can do that. The PCs enter the city, very likely close to the Shadow-Eaten Eastern/Noble Ward.
Allies and Tools
There is no shortage of allies and weapons at the disposal of the PCs, though it is doubtful that a group of PCs should gain all of them. At best they should only gain a few of them. The first and most obvious ally is Gazzo Sleep-Eye, the shadow-puppeteer. He is knowledgeable about the City of Shadows, and has faced a Haint in combat before, thus he knows some of their powers and immunities. On the other hand, he is a weakened old man who’s courage has broken once facing the Shadow and could very well break again.
Vars Bandy Leg, the Dwarf and the leader of the Luminous Faction is a second ally. He has been fighting the Shadow for as long as he can remember, but should he see Gazzo, he will be greatly stunned by how much Gazzo has aged, even compared to his longer Dwarven lifespan. Vars has a small band of fighters, though they spend more time in secretive meetings, and moving supplies about than actually fighting minions of the Shadow. He also has a black iron cresset, and is a vigorous cultivator of the daylily shadowmaster plant. Vars would stand the side of most any PC and fight the Shadow to his own death.
The Sihls themselves can be reluctant allies, having been long oppressed. Several victories against the Shadow, such as decapitating a Haint or two might bring them out of their stupor and to raise weapons and arms against the Shadow and its minions. They have numbers, but not much in the way of weaponry or magic. The Sihls have some stores of chamugra oil in clay amphorae which they can use should they decide to fight.
Arprat, the Lichling is either a powerful foe, or an equally potent ally. The Lich seeks to be reunited with the Farsmoke Thurible, a magic item that has great importance to the lich. In fact, if the Thurible were to be destroyed, Arprat would perish as well, though the Thurible would be fine even if Arprat was slain. As a lich, he has access to a great number of spells and powers, though so long as the Swollen Shadow keeps the lichling from his thurible, he is not a threat. Should Arprat learn that the PCs have the Thurible, or that the Swollen Shadow was keeping it from him, he might join in a loose alliance with the PCs to face the Shadow.
Facing the Shadow
The initial lure of the Shadow is to have the PCs lay their hands on the Queen’s Gem, and their first struggle is likely to be with the Sihls, or with Vars. The Sihls will fight viciously to protect their savior stone and image of the benevolent queen. Should the PCs succeed in nabbing the stone, this allows the Shadow more leeway to act, more power. With the stone free, the Shadow will send its Haints to attack the PCs and slaughter as many of them as possible while letting its shadow beasts run wild through the streets.
Obviously this is very bad, and should count as a PC defeat.
Should the PCs realize that some power has manipulated them, Gazzo, and even the Tenebrists back home, they should have a good reason to fight the Shadow. The Shadow will consider its choice to be poor and will try to eliminate the PCs. The PCs can have several encounters with Shadow beasts of differing shape and size, culminating with a violent encounter with a Haint and associated war pack of shadow beasts.
If the battle goes poorly, Vars and Luminous Front guerillas can attack and help swing the odds back in the PCs favor. If the PCs run roughshod over the Haint, the Shadow could send Arprat to parlay with the PCs, and deceive them into a trap. If PCs did their homework, they might know that Arprat has a connection to the Thurible and this information might sway him to their side.
The PCs job can be made more difficult if the Sihls openly work against them. This can even further with divisions among the Sihls. The Luminous Front would support the PCs, while a faction of Sihls who embrace nihilism might work with the Haints as spies and informants. A small cult could venerate the queen’s Gem as a holy relic, or another group could become clingy as groupies or hangers on with the PCs, getting themselves caught in battles between the two sides.
Akill of the Impure Strive is a wildcard in the adventure. His main goal is to recover the thurible, nothing more. The Swollen Shadow has deceived the lich claiming it has no idea where the Thurible is. In truth, the Shadow likes having a Lich on a leash and would consider the creature at full power to be a dire enough threat that if possible it would not allow the lich to survive. If the PCs restore the Thurible to the Lich, they have a 50/50 chance of Akill simply vanishing in a cloud of purple smoke, stranding them, or unloading on Shadow and PC alike in a fury or sorcerous might. If the PCs are grossly unprepared, the battle between the Swollen Shadow and the Lich could weaken the Shadow by slaying most of its Haints in the process of destroying the Lich. If the PCs are too powerful, the Lich will stand with the Shadow, a contest to see who will turn on the other first.
Ideally, this should take place in the Palace of Broken Columns, where Nayer and his Slayers were defeated, and where the King himself fell all too many centuries ago. The PCs are likely to be armed with magical weapons, or even the jewel itself for this final mission. They should battle a final wave of shadow beasts, whatever Haints remain, and whatever shadow agents are left in the city. The Shadow, once defeat is obvious will deceitfully beg for forgiveness and will backstab the PCs almost instantly. Smart PCs will banish the Shadow with potent magics, or by a reversal of the summoning spell powered by the Queen’s Gem.
The Shadow’s Master Stroke
The Swollen Shadow has an ace up its proverbial sleeve. After the PCs leave Cilagros they are unlikely to think much of Praslin afterwards, but the demented artist has been darkly inspired to create his greatest work of art. He is painting on a canvas that is 18 feet tall and just as wide, a bleak and blasted landscape of shadowed buildings and darkness creeping. By employing as much of his shadow magic and skill, Praslin is slowly working towards creating a portal between the elsewhere world of the City of Shadows, and the real world, a gateway that the Swollen Shadow might be able to use as a back door to escape, or as a portal to launch its invasion of the rest of the world.
Aftermaths and Degrees of Success
Decisive PC Victory - The PCs defeat the Swollen Shadow, trapping it within the Queen’s Gem. The stone turns black and cold, the power of the Shadow is thus contained. Chiaroscuro stutters back into the real world, appearing as if by magic. time outside the city has advanced at 4 times the rate inside. If the PCs fight the shadow for a month, four months have passed outside of the city. They are heroes of the Old Traditions and will go down as legends in their own time.
Marginal PC Victory - The Swollen Shadow is defeated, but not destroyed. Its essence escapes, greatly weakened. It could survive in a Haint who avoided death, infest part of Arprat’s being, or even infest one of the PCs…Chiaroscuro returns to the real world but the transition is rough as lingering strands of tenebrous power snap. Parts of the city are rotated, buildings cut in half, and all in all it looks like the place was bombed, and there could be many hundreds dead.
Marginal PC Defeat - The Swollen Shadow beats the PCs, but they escape the city, but hopefully have learned lessons for their next encounter with the Shadow. The Shadow itself has not succedded in its goal, but likely many of its foes have been defeated, Vars or Gazzo might have become Haints, but there is still hope…for the next battle.
Decisive PC defeat - The Queen’s Gem is destroyed and the Shadow is loosed upon creation, may of the PCs are slain, or are turned to Haints by the power of the Shadow. The best the PCs can hope for is to hold the line against the Shadow when it seeks to expand its power beyond the city of its summoning. Cue end of the world music score.