From the journal of Alton Crowfletching:
I don’t date these journal entries because I’ve lost track of time down here, and they don’t keep the same calendar in the Underdark, so I really don’t know what day it is. By my estimate, we’re probably in the month of Myrtul, when the storms clear and spring truly begins in earnest. More likely that’s just wishful thinking. I haven’t seen the sun in over a month, I haven’t seen a real flower in even longer, and let’s face it, a zurkhwood simply doesn’t have the same majesty as a willow oak. Though I suspect our Myconid friends might disagree on that point.
Today, for the first time in a long while, I feel optimistic that I may once again see those sights. The sun on my face will go far toward restoring the sanity I feel I’ve lost here in the caverns under the world. My heart aches to see my homeland again— and even more to see the fair Kiera— but that will be even further in coming. One thing at a time.
Capturing Droki left the group with a question: How to get out of the Whorlstone Tunnels? Entering by the route they had involved eating a pygmywort mushroom, and while he was easy enough to manhandle by either of the Dragonborn at their regular size, that would have been a problem if they were shrunk, and there was no way to forcibly shrink Droki. The other usual route into the tunnels was through the Derro ghetto, where thousands of crazed xenophobic Derro lay between them and civilization.
It was Droki who suggested the solution to the problem. Even captured, Droki’s priority was to get the note he was couriering to its recipient, a Lorthio Bukbukken. Droki spilled the beans about Lorthio’s secret route from the tunnels to the city above, figuring they’d deliver the note along the way.
The group reached the door to Lorthio’s lair and actually knocked. Their response came back in Dwarvish. Normally the smooth-talking Rael takes point on any conversation, but his dwarvish is terrible, which left Eldeth to handle the talking. “We’re couriers,” she called through the door. “We’ve got a delivery for Lorthio.”
“What happened to Droki?” came the reply. Eldeth, clearly not in her element, responded “Uh… He asked us to handle it.” The bored Duergar on the other side of the door bought it.
And he first thing that Duergar saw was Alphys, standing there, clasping her hand over the mouth of Droki, the hog-tied derro courier.
Rael jumped in, hoping the Duergar also spoke Common, and managed to defuse the situation by producing the letter. The Duergar stepped away, and returned with Lorthio.
Lorthio was unhappy at the turn of events— the note was from someone named Gorglak, who apparently was declining to continue his purchase of Lorthio’s venomous wares. He just wanted an elvish blade to complete their transactions.
Rael didn’t manage to extract payment as he would have liked, but he was handed the blade— a fine and elegant dagger by elven standards, but not to the usual preferences of the dour gray dwarves. He then asked, “I hate to bother you further, but we understand you have an exit from the Whorlstone Tunnels here. Might we use it?”
Lorthio did some quick math in his head. Many of his thieves were out on jobs, and their group didn’t have the numbers he’d like for a fight. He made a mental note to triple the guard on the trapdoor from the Docks district and allowed the characters to pass, with a warning: “If any of us see you anywhere near the trapdoor, it will be the last thing you see.”
The Gray Ghosts’ secret trapdoor into the Whorlstone Tunnels may well be the worst kept secret in Gracklstugh, as there was somebody waiting for them on the other side.The copper-haired surface elf introduced herself as Chlen. “I bring greetings from the Wyrmsmith of the City of Blades. He has decided to grant you an audience.”
The group dithered. They finally had the wily Droki. Droki was the key to getting out of the city. They wanted to bring him to Captain Blackskull immediately. Chlen asked, “What part of ‘Dragon’ did you not understand? Are you really going to keep the dragon waiting?”
Put this way, the group decided Captain Blackskull could wait a bit longer.
On their way from the Darklake Docks to Themberchaud’s cavern, they found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. A two-headed stone giant crashed through a building toward them. “Don’t kill the giant!” screamed Chlen. “The Stonespeaker and the Deepking are already on rocky terms, and a stone giant dying in the city by any circumstances would cause chaos!”
The group wore down the crazed two-headed giant to where the giant could not resist Rael’s spell of sleep. Lacking any way to secure a stone giant, though, they ran away quickly.
Entering Themberchaud’s lair, the great wyrm was facing away from them. He cracked a joke with Chlen. She had taken a knee, and signaled for the rest of the group to do the same. Pride kept Rollin and the two dragonkin from showing any sort of fealty to a red dragon. Without turning to view the situation, the dragon spoke a few words of extremely powerful magic. The floor began to shake violently— but none of the group who knelt were affected at all. Alphys and Rollin were thrown to the floor, but Goldie managed to keep his feet a bit longer. He was pummeled by rocks shaken from the ceiling even more and eventually fell to the ground. Alphys and Rollin took the hint, and rose to a knee, but Goldenrod stood again. “You’re no god,” he spoke in Draconic.
Themberchaud responded, "I am in here. If you wish to rise, I suppose that can be arranged. " A few more words of magic levitated Goldenrod high above the party, where he found himself ensconced in a silence spell. “Thank you, Chlen. You may leave us.”
Themberchaud explained to the party his dilemma. As Wyrmsmith of Gracklstugh, he kept the forges of the city burning with magical dragonfire. He described the Keepers of the Flame, an order of clerics who, in theory, were to assist him and who brought the wyrm treasure as gratuity for his service. Then he waved around him. “But look at this,” he said. “Is this a suitable treasure hoard for a dragon of my stature?” As he scooped his great claw through a pile of magical items, one out-of-place object caught the eye. It was another chunk of Fardelver’s gate. “Why is it that it often seems like they control me rather than I control them?”
“Find out what the Keepers of the Flame are up to. I recognize none work for free, and there shall be payment.”
Rael, obsequious as possible, took that opening to suggest that the group would do it in exchange for the piece of the Gate. “Do you know what it is?” the dragon asked. He turned to Eldeth, and said, “You. Do you know the history of your people?”
“This is a piece of the Gate of Fardelver,” the dragon hissed. “Millenia ago, the Delzoun dwarves of Gauntlgrym— your people— had mines that dug this deep into the Underdark. They created the Gate to teleport back and forth between here and their city under the mountain. They didn’t create it themselves, of course. Your people have never had much ability with magic. I of course mean no offense by that,” the dragon stated, not even attempting to conceal the condescension in his voice. "They had help from the Modrons.
“Thousands of years ago, during the war between the Delzoun and the Illithid, the Modrons in the underdark were all slaughtered by the mind-flayers to keep the dwarves from using their transportation system. The ones trapped here were enslaved by the mind flayers, and they are as you see them today— gray dwarves, touched by the evil of their slavers even after throwing off those shackles.”
“You will earn your piece of the gate if you fulfill your end of the bargain— for all the good it will do you. Without a Modron to operate the gate, it will be useless.”
The bargain struck, our heroes took their leave of the dragon. As Themberchaud released Goldenrod, the dragonkin called upon his sorcery to drift safely to the ground rather than plummet. “Finally,” the wyrm said, “You show some of the wisdom one of your heritage ought to have.”
As the group left, they turned to talk to one of the Keepers posted outside the cavern. The guard they could see turned to an invisible one and nodded. Then the guard said, “I can tell you nothing, but Malloc will find you.”
The next stop was the center of town. Captain Blackskull was quite happy that her plan had worked, and held up her end of the bargain, producing papers that will allow the group both free passage through the city and also out of the city. “Might I ask a favor before you leave? I am finding that some of my people are taking matters into their own hands. Sometimes mutinous hands.”
“We’ve noticed,” came the reply from the ravenous dragonborn. “I ate a few of them”.
Blackskull continued, “I would like you to see if you can find proof of the Captain of the Gate’s treachery. His name is Gorglak, and you can find him near the gates of the city.”
At this point, the group produced the letter from Gorglak, and a disappointed Rael was convinced to show the elven dagger. “So he’s working with the Gray Ghosts. I wonder what he needs the poison for?”
The group arranged to meet with Blackskull’s lieutenant, a fellow named Emvee at the
Shattered Spire Millenium Falcon the next morning to lead him to the Gray Ghosts. Blackskull offered a quick apology. “I had been considering allowing you a pick from our storerooms if you were to help us with this, but I fear that if Gorglak has been buying poison from Lorthio, I’ll have to take the antivenins out of the offer.”
True to the word of the Keeper Guard at Themberchaud’s cavern, Malloc did find the group. (It turns out that a group of surfacers including two seven foot tall gold dragonkin stick out like a sore thumb in Gracklstugh.) He was waiting for them outside city hall. The group suggested that they take the conversation back to the inn to talk privately.
Once safely ensconced in the
Shattered Spire Millenium Falcon, Malloc looked accusingly at the group. “So perhaps the Gray Ghosts aren’t lying, and they didn’t take it. What did you do with it?” The group protested they had no idea what “it” Malloc was talking about. “The egg.” He was looking straight at Goldenrod, who managed to carry off a bluff when he said he knew nothing about an egg. The group questioned Malloc about the egg, and Malloc had no problems letting them know that it was a red dragon egg and was not Themberchaud’s. He then apologized and took his leave.
As tired as the group was, they knew something was amiss. Rollin and Rael tailed Malloc back to the offices of the Keepers of the Flames, a building just outside the dragon’s cavern. Goldie skirted town to the cavern from the other side of the building. Creeping up past stalactites and stalagmites, Goldenrod quietly disappeared in a puff of mist and reappeared on the other side of the guards, who were none the wiser. He then greeted Themberchaud. He asked if they could talk privately, and Themberchaud cast a spell of silence across the entry to the cavern. After relaying what the group had learned, Goldenrod offered his analysis: “If they have a dragon egg that does not belong to the dragon they claim to serve, it likely means that they intend to replace the dragon.” An enraged Themberchaud spoke. “Begone.”
Goldenrod begged for help. “I’m not sure how to get past your guards.”
Themberchaud snorted, “That does not sound like my problem. I do not like you.” He paused. “But I do pay my debts,” he continued, and he flung the chunk of Fardelver’s Gate at the dragonkin.
At the office, Rael and Rollin climed in through a window, and in the process, Rael made some scraping noises as he pushed off the wall. Fortunately, before beginning pursuit, Rael had placed some invisibility magic on himself. Rollin, on the other hand, had used his magic of the woodlands to pass without trace so that he was extremely tough to find. Someone heard Rael’s miscue. Rollin quickly slinked behind the door, and Rael leapt atop a short cabinet, still invisible. The cabinet rocked a bit beneath him but steadied itself before a Keeper of the Flame looked in. The Keeper called out something to his group that neither Rael nor Rollin understood because they don’t speak Dwarvish. He turned back to the hallway, where he had another argument, then he turned back into the room, went to the window, looked around, yelled back to his group again, and left the room without finding the hiding heroes.
Finally they heard Malloc’s voice, but they couldn’t tell what he was saying. Malloc then led a dozen of his people out the door, back toward the inn. Rael and Rollin turned to follow.
Not long after, Goldenrod used the same misty step magic to reappear outside the cavern. The guards noticed him, and gave chase. They called sacred flame from above onto Goldie, but their short legs could not keep up. They did see some of the main group, though, and using their psionic magic to send a message, two of the main group peeled off to pursue Goldenrod.
Moving fastest, Goldie barely made it to the inn first. He roared as he ran through the doors, waking everybody, and then turned to face the door, ready to shatter the next thing that came in.
The pursers turned invisible before the burst through the door, but Rael was close enough behind when he saw it. A short incantation later, and three of the invisible duergar were engulfed with faerie fire.
The door smashed open and the first couple Keepers, including Malloc, got through. Malloc, seeing his enemy’s spellcaster standing in the open, attempted to dominate Goldie, but the spell was harmlessly sucked up by the dweomer infused in Goldenrod’s jail cell bar.
Eldeth and Homie leapt into the fight with the keepers, and the back of the group was sandwiched in by Rollin and Rael, who had tailed them from their office. A fireball from Goldenrod softened that group up, but also convinced them to swarm the sorcerer.They conjured fiery maces out of the air, and those spiritual weapons swung at him along with their own dwarven war picks.
Meanwhile, Wynn moved herself into position and Alphys took on Malloc. She called on upon the power of her patron to force Malloc into a compelled duel. “Very well,” Malloc said, and this time he cast his dominate person spell on Alphys instead. Malloc directed her to “Kill the spellcaster,” expecting her to finish off Goldenrod.
Wynn had reached the injured dragonkin, and Alphys laid into her, a divine smite from the heavens with her frost-brand sword— Wynn was also a spellcaster. It wasn’t enough to bring her down, and Wynn brought about her own magic to heal herself and the sorcerer at the same time. She also brought up her own spiritual weapon, a gleaming morning star, that smashed into Malloc.
When Malloc fell, Alphys returned to control of her own mind, horrified at what she had done to Wynn. Eldeth and Homie took the last remaining Keeper prisoner when he threw down his weapons rather than stand back up to fight.
Our heroes secured Remder the Keeper of the Flame and finally turned in for the evening, ready to meet Emvee in the morning.