In the Northwestern Empire, just east of the small mining town of Eloh, lies a forest that was cursed long ago. Called the Forest of Shadows or the Shadowvale, the woods have now been placed under a dark spell that twisted the very land, killing or driving out all creatures within it short of a few monsters capable of living on its outskirts. Precious few who enter the forest return alive.
The forest is composed entirely of solid black, twisted trees. They are spindly, leafless, and seemingly dead, but their branches are supple and do not have the weakness of rotten wood. Their thick, gnarled roots cover the dark forest floor, making it treacherous to walk upon; otherwise there is virtually no underbrush. At the edges of the forest, it is difficult to tell what lies within: all one can see are the blackened trees and thick, impenetrable shadow. This palpable shadow, which composes the very air of the entire forest, is visible even in the brightest daylight, and the farther into the forest a traveler goes, the more magical things become. The Forest of Shadows experiences no seasons, and it is always rather cold within the forest itself. Despite the coolness of the forest, however, snow melts immediately upon contact with the cursed air. Rain might sometimes fall upon the woods and make the ground between the trees roots become moist, but it does not otherwise effect the forest. The Forest of Shadows is relatively ordinary on its southern side, though still grey and unnatural. The change in landscape as one nears the Forest of Shadows is slow as surroundings turn ashen grey and then eventually black, making it far too easy for travelers to become lost within the cursed woods.
Perhaps the heart of the entire curse upon the forest is the air. Within the Forest of Shadows, the air is little other than thick, magical shadow. It is not simply darkness, but a palpable black substance that creatures must both breathe and navigate through, for it fills the woods even to the tops of the black trees. Despite not having a real scent of its own, the shadow-air makes smelling anything very difficult, if not impossible. It is moist to the touch and makes breathing difficult within the forest. Firelight cannot penetrate the corrupted air, and a torch waved through the thick, moist air will be extinguished. Creatures can see only a few feet in front of them while within the woods, for the air obscures everything.
The corrupted air becomes more and more powerful as one enters deeper into the forest. The black air will collect in the eyes of those that pass through it. The corrupted air that settles in a creature's eyes will never dissipate as long as they remain within the forest, leaving them utterly blind. After a creature escapes, however, it will dissipate over time. This process causes burning pain, which is only made worse if one was blinded by the shadow for an extended period of time and must quickly readjust to bright light.
In addition to settling in the eyes, the shadow-air will thicken when it is inhaled, gathering within the throats and lungs of creatures to choke and suffocate them. If one leaves the forest quickly enough, it will loosen into a stringy, mucus-like liquid, which can then be coughed up to prevent drowning. After the black substance leaves a creature's body, it will dissipate within seconds. However, it can be very difficult for someone to leave the forest quickly enough to save themselves, particularly if they were near the heart of the forest.
The corrupted air is very cool and moist, as well as feeling thick and difficult to move through. Some say that the shadow-air deeper within the woods moves on its own, crawling in slick strands along the flesh of the creatures that pass through it, but no one knows if there are truth to these claims.
The Forest of Shadows is virtually devoid of life, save for the occasional swamp or forest troll disguising itself amongst the black trees along the outermost portions of the woods. The only other creatures are some that stray into the forest from Rognosst Swamp, and these quickly meet their doom within the cursed woods. Rumors speak of some powerful monster that dwells within the shadows at the heart of the forest, where no other creatures can survive. No one knows the nature of the monster, or if it even truly exists. Rumors speak, however, of Rognosst "the dragon god," a great black dragon who occasionally leaves his home in the mountains north of the forest in order to enter its shadowy reaches. He is one of the few creatures believed to be capable of surviving within the cursed woods. Whether or not he is the monster spoken of in some tales, or if there is another creature that has made the forest its permanent home, is unknown.