So, Serai the sorcerer, Shurrin the roguish priest of Mirresh, Sister Mara the cleric of Lothian, Aliya the monk of the Order of the Fist, and Zophas the paladin of Lothian had just left Storamere’s lair. On the way, though, they were hounded by shadowdancers and shadowmages. Their ears to the ground, the group learned that their assailants were from one of the noble houses in the city: House Sadar, also called the House of Shadows. A less than reputable family, they were known allies of the evil Vladaam noble house. With that kind of power hunting for the box of shadows (and the key to it, which Serai held), the adventurers knew they had to act fast.

They had been fighting the ghost dragon Storamere on behalf of Daersidian Ringsire, an elf who supposedly knew how to find the box. After they fulfilled their end of the bargain, Daersidian upheld his as well. He told them that the box of shadows had been in the keeping of a group of earthbound angels called the Malkuth, but that a frost giant sorcerer named Ymrik stole it from one of their agents. He told them about a minotaur wizard named Canabulum who had helped Ymrik but then had second thoughts after seeing how evil his erstwhile ally was. Canabulum might very well know where Ymrik was, and thus the location of the box.

The group met up with Canabulum in the lair he kept in an underground ruin beneath the city, accessed by the sewers. After a brief exchange of information, Canabulum agreed to lead the group to Ymrik’s lair, which also lay beneath the city. So they all went together. They even took Udalaag, the monstrously dim-witted half-dragon/half-umber hulk that now resided in their care, still wearing the intelligence-boosting magic item that allowed them to converse with him.

Ymrik’s lair was well defended by giant and minotaur mercenaries. After fighting their way through a horde of them, the group found a strange secret area filled with soul magic runes. After careful examination, they discovered the runes provided the magical means and necessary protection to travel to a strange and shadowy half-world. To the shadow of the city of Ptolus, in fact.

But the group was not ready for such a trip. The PCs needed to rest and recuperate. As they decided to leave, the agents of House Sadar struck again. This was a tense fight, but new ally Canabulum really shone, sending the shadowmages running with a well-cast spell. The group left Udalaag to guard Ymrik’s lair and went home to rest. Serai met up with Daersidian again, complaining about the forces of Sadar. Daersidian said he would “give them something else to think about.”

A few days later, after a brief and comical chase through the streets of Ptolus (another group of adventurers had stumbled upon Udalaag under the city and wanted to turn him over to the Brotherhood of Redemption for the standing bounty on monsters), the heroes went back to Ymrik’s lair. Udalaag was safe in his new home: the underground abode of Canabulum, his new “lairmate.” They traveled to the location of the box of shadows, the “shadow” of an otherwise innocuous tower in the city. There, they encountered and defeated Ymrik and his most trusted henchmen. But they did not have the box.

The box was in the hands of Thurvan, an old friend of Daersidian Ringsire who had allied with Ymrik after being obsessed with—later consumed by—the box of shadows. Its dark, shadowy power tempted all who came in contact with it, granting power to a willing character but forever stealing the poor creature’s soul. So it went with Thurvan. Now, he wielded the shadows of the box like a weapon. Daersidian had told Serai long ago that the key wasn’t important because it could open the box, but because it could close and seal it. It was clear now what had to be done. The group entered melee with Thurvan, and finally Shurrin was able to knock the box from his hands. They closed and sealed the box, defeating Thurvan.

When they finally returned home, they learned that Ren Sadar, head of House Sadar, had been assassinated by an unknown assailant. Daersidian was nowhere to be found.

The adventurers turned the now-sealed box of shadows back over to the Malkuth, who rewarded them greatly. After much celebration, they settled in for a well-deserved rest. During this time, they learned the latest gossip, almost all of which involved the Emperor of the Church.

The Tarsisan Empire was in a state of disarray these days. Three different forces claimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne. There was Segaci, in the capital of Tarsis, who had advised many emperors in his life and claimed to rule by virtue of being the most fit to do so. Empress Addares, on the other hand, claimed a distant blood tie to the Imperial line and declared the capital of the Empire to be her home, the southern city of Dohrinthas. And there was the Emperor of the Church of Lothian. For centuries, the Empire had actually had two emperors: the secular Emperor of the Lion-Guarded Throne and the Emperor of the Church. The current holder of the latter title, Rehoboth Ylestos, finally declared it Lothian’s will that he rule not only the Church, but also the secular Empire as well. This move would reunite a position that split into two during the Empire’s early days. Not only that, but Rehoboth officially declared Ptolus the new capital of the Empire, rather than Tarsis or Dohrinthas.

Suddenly, the Empire had three emperors and three capitals. Rumors began to spread that the barbarian tribes in the east—who had attacked and defeated the Empire years back—were stirring. This was a delicate time.

In a seemingly unrelated bit of news, after much searching for someone to cast true resurrection on the dead leader of their house, House Sadar found those willing to help them… in the Church of Lothian. The next day, Sadar and Vladaam put their official support behind the reign of Holy Emperor Rehoboth as the one true emperor. Strange times indeed.

Next: But what about the Company of the Black Lantern during all this? In the next installment, the Black Lantern begins its war against the dark elves.