Book Two: At the Mountains of Gnollwatch

On the way up the River Dambron, the ferry encounters another barge that has run aground on some shoals. The captain requests that they go aboard and determine if anything is salvageable–and, as a distant priority, if there are any survivors. On the vessel, the adventurers discover a bloodbath, but only one body: that of the captain, whose limbs have been removed. They discover a bloody coin in one severed hand, and recover a signet ring from the captain’s desk.

The signet proves to be that of House A’avaleith, Silaqui’s family.

After recovering the cargo, which has been left behind, the barge continues toward Herath. It takes a berth along the Riversway, the captain making a contract with Khymerus to ensure that they will be paid a portion for the recovered goods. Although they inquire with the dockmaster to determine why any river captain would have been carrying a drow signet, the party is stymied in their efforts.

Captain Peripatas wishes to present his case to Trade Prince Umbril Talraud, but the party lacks clothing for the occasion. They negotiate a lift ride to the Upper City with Luth’s body still in tow and find their way to The Weaver’s Will, an upscale tailor shop run by a human woman named Pyril. All of the party members purchase new clothing, but the tailored pieces won’t be ready for days.

With a few pieces of loaned or purchased clothing, Bhediya, Khymerus, and Silaqui take Luth’s corpse to the Electrum Ziggurat, a joint temple of Lathander and Berronar in the city’s center. While outside, Resh is recognized by one of the guards. He hurries off and finds solace at a nearby inn, the Glimmering Chasm. Within the temple, the trio finds that no one in Herath has the power to resurrect Luth, not even the aged high cleric. A young acolyte at the temple offers to send to the city of Waterdeep for aid. Bhediya uses Speak with the Dead and confirms that Luth desires vengeance.

Kelshar and Garret head off to the Lower City to find an armor shop, but end up carousing at The Damp Spot. (The Rough Shaft, another tavern nearby, proves to be a bit too rough for them.) They also ferret out that the city’s best smiths are the Seven of Steel.

While the pair are getting extremely drunk in the tavern, Resh and the others take a room at the Glimmering Chasm, a lavish Upper City inn. The rest of the party leaves to go shopping, and Resh is ambushed by the guard and several hired swords. Fortunately, his comrades overhear the commotion and return in time to aid Resh. Two of the assassins escape, having revealed only that they were hired and do not know why their employer wanted to kill Resh. The party is summarily kicked out of the inn, though they avoid paying for the damages or a visit from the city guard.

After reuniting with their drunken compatriots in the Lower City, Khymerus and Bhediya find Alinser’s shop. He reveals that Branduin Bleakshard, the most sympathetic of the Seven, loves a good port. He agrees to set up a meeting between the party and Branduin, but strongly suggests that they find a suitable gift for the reclusive mage-smith.

The party reconnects at The Damp Spot, but Garret strikes off on his own, looking for potential contracts in the city. In the Folly, he finds a strange shop run by a stooped and ancient dwarf woman named Lilith. She offers to find Garret work that might be unpalatable to the rest of the party. With his permission, she brands his hand with a sigil that swiftly vanishes, leaving only pain behind.

Very early in the morning, the group ascends to the Upper City. Over the course of the day, Bhediya leaves her contact information at the Electrum Ziggurat, they arrange for their clothing from the Weaver’s Will to be delivered at the inn, and they procure bottles of 1480 ruby port from Croakhollow, a favorite vineyard of Branduin’s. Prepared at last, they return to the Lower City for some much needed relaxation.

Two days later, they go to Bleakshard Place. There, Branduin’s servant Fantry forces them to leave their magical effects and weapons under guard in the foyer, and they are escorted to a multi-course meal with the dwarven smith. After examining the Blade of the Black Star, he informs the party that the meteor cannot be safely destroyed on Toril, as doing so would expose others to its corrupting influence. He suggests instead sending the meteor to the Elemental Plane of Fire, dropping it directly into a white-hot sea of lava known as the Gullet of Ao.

Branduin confesses that his first duty is toward himself. If he is to take leave of Herath, the other members of the Seven of Steel will be able to plot without him, potentially costing him greatly. He tells the party of the Duergar city of Z’had Nuth, on the shores of the Darkgulf, a vast sea in the Underdark. A dwarf there, Suthek Umberglass, crafted a relic known as the Crown of Invention, which fills its wearer’s mind with brilliant inventions and unparalleled genius. He wants the crown recovered to boost his cachet among the Seven, and to spite Moran Umberglass, another of the Seven who is Suthek’s descendant. Branduin would have claimed the crown on his own, he says, but until recently, drow wards kept the tunnels down to Z’had Nuth impassable. Something has recently changed, opening the way.

Branduin gives the party his signet ring and offers them a guide, a mind flayer called Kanaphant that Branduin claims is tame. Kanaphant disguises itself, the party reclaims their gear, and they strike off on their next adventure. They descend into the Fourth Rim of the Lower City, the Underverge. They present Branduin’s signet to a vanguard of dwarf warriors patrolling the chasm, and pass by.

Down in the tunnels of the Underverge, they find a heavily webbed tunnel that was likely patrolled by one of the drow Sisters of Silk, priestesses of Lolth who transformed themselves into giant telepathic spiders to defend T’lindhet. The webs are old and dry. The party triggers a trap that activates two great stone golems, and must fight off spiderlings and a drider left behind. They are pursued by more spiders until they reach the Underdark, glimpsing the far-off city of T’lindhet through a breach on their hurried flight downward.

The spiders halt in their pursuit abruptly, and the party bursts out onto the shores of a great sea: the Darkgulf. There, they are attacked by a gluttonous aboleth who briefly takes Hamo and Resh as thralls. Once the aboleth is vanquished, Garret finds a trident buried in the creature’s side.

Having been affected by the aboleth’s diseases, the party takes precautions not to injure themselves on the way to Z’had Nuth: Garret keeps his skin moist with water from the Darkgulf and King uses his butterfly cloak to turn into a minnow so he can rest safely in a potion bottle. The party observes the city from atop a high cliff and sees movement in the streets. After a punishing climb down, they make their way to the city.

Upon seeing mind flayers in the streets, Kanaphant informs the others that he does not detect the presence of an elder brain. This disconcerts him, but the party moves forward. The illithid feels drawn to a workshop in the ruins. There, the party finds a trapped safe containing the journal of Suthek Umberglass.

They are set upon by a feral mind flayer and its mindless thralls. Although they manage to defeat the mind flayer, the battle is not without casualties: Garret has his brain devoured by the feral illithid. Bhediya uses Revivify on Garret, but the spell only brings his body back to life for a moment before it begins to fail due to the lack of a brain. The party cuts the feral mind flayer open and attempts to reunite brain and body, expending an impressive amount of magic to stitch Garret back together. Although the rite should not work, Garret suddenly revives, the sigil on his hand glowing. But he is changed: virtually mindless and feral, he cannot speak and seems barely more than a beast in humanoid form.

In the aftermath of Garret’s death and questionable resurrection, Suthek speaks through the thralls of the mind flayer. Announcing himself as God-King of Z’had Nuth and Lord of the Underdark, he demands that the party withdraw from his domain. Enraged at their refusal, the mutated duergar kills the thrall he is speaking through by having him snap his own neck. One dies of the shock of being severed from its illithid master, and the party puts the other to death. Kanaphant notes that the mind flayer had four thralls, not three, just as the group notices a figure fleeing into the distance. Suthek erects a psionic barrier around Z’had Nuth’s central palace complex, sealing himself in.

They track the last thrall into what was once an armory. After a tense standoff, he recognizes Kelshar. He reveals himself to be Akhamet, a distant cousin of the drow bard. A powerful wizard, Akhamet was dispatched from T’lindhet to determine why four of the seven Sisters of Silk, priestesses of Lolth who took on the forms of immense spiders to protect the drow city, have vanished.

The group and Akhamet retreat to a crumbling shop that was once an herbalist. While securing water from a nearby well, Hamo spots something immense moving in the depths below. Trying to discern a way past Suthek’s barrier, the group decides to capture another illithid so that Kanaphant can devour its brain and memories. Akhamet notes that there was a spawning pool that is often guarded by small complements of mind flayers, but he does not wish to travel into the city. He offers to guide the party to a teleportation circle on the opposite side of the city. When the group refuses his offer, he uses an Invisibility spell and sets off on his own.

The party sneaks through the city toward a crumbling temple to Laduguer that holds the spawning pool. They discover the mark of the Seven of Steel on the back of the statue’s plinth, implying that the organization has existed for longer than Herath itself. In the cellar of the temple, they find the pool. It is guarded by a single illithid and several zombie-like humanoids in the process of unconventional ceremorphosis. Kanaphant discourages the group from destroying the pool, which appears to have been an ancient attempt at founding an elder brain, but helps kill the illithid and its attendants.

From the mind flayer’s memories, Kanaphant determines that there is a way past Suthek’s psionic field. Long ago, a merchant’s daughter had a secret passage built to access the palace complex for secret trysts, and Kanaphant knows the location of the tunnel. He leads the group to the long-dead lover’s abode. While searching, they discover a book of Dethek poetry, which gives them the clues necessary to pass a series of trapped tiles in the passage.

The party’s journey takes them through a twisting warren of tunnels. On the verge of being lost, the party falls back on Khymerus’s arcane senses. He detects a wave of conjuration magic emanating from one tunnel. The passage breaches into the antechamber of the palace’s treasure room. There, they discover a security mechanism involving a trio of parapets and statues in stone niches, along with a cryptic inscription on a wall of pure adamantine. Upon choosing the correct statues, they find that the wall expects a lie, a prayer, and a truth from each.

Khymerus admits that he is a eunuch; Kelshar, that his love is Silaqui’s sister; Resh, that he is not sure that his god, Lathander, still lives; King, that he literally has royal blood; Bhediya, that she has fallen in love with Luth; and Hamo, that his family has been wiped out. Silaqui, testing her suspicions, states that her sister is alive. The truth field activates, leaving the group in surprised silence.

In the treasure room, the party finds several dwarven treasures, considerable stores of metal, and the Crown of Invention. Garret uses the crown, and, while his brain is still horribly damaged, its enchantment allows him to function as if he possesses incredible intelligence.

Reuniting with Kanaphant, who did not participate in the ritual, the party seeks out the source of the Conjuration magic. They find three illithid working to reconfigure an ancient duergar portal that seems to run on magically coded crystals. After a brief battle, Suthek focuses his psionic presence on the party, shattering all of the portal’s crystals, save for one attuned to what used to be the city of Crimar. He believes the party intends to escape, but they have already resolved to kill him.

The party retreats back down the tunnel while Suthek tries to bring the earth crashing down around them. Kanaphant manages to point out the path into the main palace before he is crushed by a thrown boulder. In an unstable cavern, the group finds the steps to a major palace entrance, but the area’s stability has been damaged. The ground ahead collapses into a chasm, awakening an ancient neothelid below. To complicate matters, an illithid bearing Suthek’s essence arrives to usher the group to their doom.

After a pitched battle in which Resh’s leg is torn from his body and badly reattached, the party manages to defeat the neothelid. They use a rope to cross the new chasm and ascend the steps to the palace, opening the doors easily. They step inside, and find themselves on a wide open plain, with the sun shining brightly overhead.

The group finds themselves in an elaborate illusion crafted by Suthek. The mutant duergar does not do much to hide this fact from them, but neither does he permit them to escape. In their altered state, they are in a future projected by Suthek, on a plain near Richter’s Hollow. Led by Corrin Grimes, the bartender of the Dingy Hole, a group of townsfolk coerces them back toward the township. There, everything is not as it once was. The streets are even and the buildings painted and well-maintained. They are offered the run of the inn.

While the group sleeps, fully aware of their inescapable circumstances, Bhediya goes to the window of the room and sees the moon beckoning her. In a vision-within-a-vision, Selûne calls her across the plains to the east, up to the River Keless. There, she sees that in the intervening time, the meteor’s influence has spread, consuming all life past the river. The only thing holding it back is, presumably, the influence of Blais of the White Claw.

She and the party awaken to a quiet throng outside the inn. As they watch, helpless, a child is brought forward, struggling and terrified. A mind flayer–Saroska–comes forth from the throng and implants an illithid tadpole in a child, who, after struggling, is overcome by the same mindless peace as the other people.

Suthek, in his original dwarven form, appears to the party. He tells them that this is what they wish to fight: peace. Calling them mercenaries, he realizes that he cannot dissuade them from coming to fight him, and lets them free of the illusion.

The party is set upon by thralls and a mind flayer that take on the appearance of the townsfolk. After dispatching the assailants, the party comes to a quicksilver door. Resh handily solves its riddle, and the way to the throne room is open.

Within, they find that Suthek is massive and horribly deformed, his dwarven body fused with a bulbous illithid head. He dominates the party by means of an antimagic field, but Kanaphant appears, attacking the self-styled king from behind and disrupting his powers. At a crucial moment, Khymerus’s Wild Magic goes out of control, nearly immolating the group. Still standing, Silaqui and Hamo manage to cut the psion down, freeing Z’had Nuth from his influence.

After the nearly fatal fight with Suthek, the party scours the Black Palace of Z’had Nuth. They find a variety of treasures left behind by the ancient duergar, including old heirlooms from the Bleakshard and Umberglass families and a damaged power crystal for the castle’s Deep Gate. While pillaging the keep, they notice that the illithid in the city–now free from Suthek’s control–have begun to fight with their thralls, swiftly subduing them before turning their attention upon the castle.

As the encroaching illithids breach the castle complex, the party hastens to the portal plaza there. Using Garret’s enhanced intelligence and intuitive mastery of the system, they plan to escape to Herath using one of the teleportation crystals. Kanaphant insists that he would rather stay with his own kind. Although the party has misgivings about Kanaphant’s intentions and his safety against the rampaging mind flayers, they allow him to go.

They hurry through the portal and find themselves in a too-small cavern. It appears that the Herathi have blocked off their Deep Gate. The party manages to escape through brute force and a little luck, and find themselves on a small bluff along Herath’s volcanic crater shield. The shield has not done well for the town: while the party was in the Underdark, a force of gnolls some 4,000 strong attacked, and the city guard was barely able to repel them.

The party hears that Yelen Peripatas, their traveling companion, joined the battle. When General Keth, the commander of the Herath Guard, fell in battle, it was Peripatas who took up command and kept the city’s line from crumbling. He was grievously injured in the battle, with a mangled arm and a missing leg. Several of the party visit with him in the triage tent to which he was brought, and with Kelshar’s and Bhediya’s healing spells, his recovery is hastened.

Meanwhile, their compatriots have a difficult meeting with Branduin Bleakshard. He is less than pleased that the party has lost his pet mind flayer and does not appear to believe their intimation that Kanaphant perished in the Underdark. Using his considerable clout, he sends to the Electrum Ziggurat for an acolyte, who arrives with a wand imbued with a Remove Curse spell. She manages to separate the crown from Garret.

Branduin reveals that he was not telling the full story when he sent the group after the crown. It turns out that he will need a Scroll of Focused Gate that is now stored in the Infernal Cloister, a dwarven monument where they once communed with the elements. After they created an unstable breach into the Plane of Elemental Fire, the elementals that the dwarves once admired from afar came forth onto the Material Plane, and the temple was sealed and abandoned. The party agrees to fetch the Scroll of Focused Gate from the Cloister.

On the way back to the Damp Spot, Garret spots Lilith in the crowd. He hurries off after her, unable to reason due to his diminished intellect. Silaqui and Hamo stalk him down. As Garret pleads with Lilith to help him, they arrive, confronting her. Silaqui suspects she had something to do with Garret’s strange brand. Cornered, the dwarven woman reveals herself to be a powerful rakshasa, disappearing after warning Garret that he will see her again.

The party returns to the Damp Spot, sans Kelshar, who remains in Yelen’s infirmary overnight to assist with the wounded. The owner, Thaddeus, gives them a hard time due to the finery of the garments that arrived from them from Pyril’s while they were gone, but they manage to diffuse the situation. He tells them that a fellow in fine armor came asking after Resh, but agrees to put off any further questioning.

Free from trouble for the immediate moment, Most of the group drinks. Silaqui and Hamo talk about the quiet vigilante’s past and engage in casual lovemaking.

In the morning, the group shops for weapons, armor, and new magical accoutrements. They retrieve the Godseye Pistol, now augmented, from Branduin’s comrade Anglim Fireshadow. Bhediya, Khymerus, and Kelshar go to the infirmary and find that Yelen’s sacrifices were not in vain. He has been invited, albeit grudgingly, to a formal dinner with the Trade Prince in fifteen days. The others have the singularly unpleasant experience of meeting with Suthek’s descendant, Moran Umberglass, an especially cold-hearted and avaricious dwarf who offers them little thanks for returning a family heirloom that they found in the Underdark.

Having taken advantage of a bit of rest and relaxation, the party gets an unexpected visit from Branduin that night at the inn. He urges them to go to the Cloister quickly and ensures they are given a fine supper and breakfast, wishing them well on their next harrowing adventure.

The party re-ups on traveling supplies. Thaddeus informs them that the gnolls struck via the city’s Iron Gate, which is coincidentally the way they’ll need to leave to get to the Cloister. City guards try to discourage them from leaving, but they press onward. Not far from the town, on an alpine road winding through the mountains, they find a small iron disk embedded into the ground. Hamo tries to pick it up, springing a complex trap that dislodges a boulder from the hillside. Although the party escapes crippling injury, they are set upon by a pack of gnolls that peppers them with arrows, until Khymerus’s desperate attempt at startling them with Thaumaturgy collapses the unstable hillside, nearly killing Silaqui in the process.

Having survived, they climb to a parallel passage through the mountains that rejoins the first. While seeking shelter for the night, they notice the remaining gnolls have made camp in a small stand of scraggly woods. Silaqui, Hamo, and Garret go to scout, but Garret manages to stand in a patch of poison ivy and the trio must return to the main group to get healed. Rather than chance an attack on the gnolls as they sleep, the party moves on until they find a secluded bend in the mountains. There, Kelshar invokes Leomund’s Tiny Hut and the group rests for the night.

They spot numerous gnoll patrols moving in the night, marking their passage by shadows occluding the mouth of the bend. Even so, they remain undiscovered until the next morning, when they move on and encounter a small scouting party. They are above a massive gnoll camp that seems to be guarding the Infernal Cloister.

Although the group surprises the gnolls, the battle does not go well for them. A stunted gnoll shaman detonates spectacularly when killed, injuring most of the group, and King is killed. Only the timely intervention of Bhediya’s Revivify spell keeps him from perishing permanently. Resh critically injures one of the attackers with the augmented Godseye Pistol, which alerts the camp below and the remainder of the warband behind.

Pincered and unable to escape, several of the group begin to climb the steep and unforgiving mountainside. King turns into a raven, but he is shot down by gnollish crossbows. He, Bhediya, Kelshar, and Hamo are taken prisoner while Resh, Garret, Silaqui, and Khymerus manage to escape.

Once brought to the gnoll camp, the first party is visited by a familiar face: Etreia. She has assassinated the gnoll force chieftain and replaced her. The gnolls have been ordered by Muramand to breach the sealed Infernal Cloister and strip it of any magical articles within. She plans to raid the temple and make off with the items.

Acknowledging her grudging connection to the party, she devises a way to ‘help’ them. She tells the captives that she will have them fight to the death, and in the distraction, their party members can get into the Cloister and raid it before the gnolls have a chance. The four agree, believing they’ll be able to find some way to escape during the fighting. But to make matters worse, the shamans breach the temple doors and Muramand himself arrives not long later. He orders the sacrifice of all the camp’s prisoners to Yeenoghu to celebrate the magicians’ success.

King’s recent brush with death causes a crisis of faith. He forsakes his vow to the ancients, seeking comfort in nature’s fury and the strange powers of the fey to become a druid.

Muramand comes to visit the prisoners. Etreia, still pretending to be one of his chieftains, shames him into letting the captives fight his ‘pets’, great beasts that he has hunted and magically subdued. She beds Muramand, and once he is asleep, she coordinates with the party, telling them that Muramand uses a magical device to maintain control over the beasts. Her plan is simple: the free members of the party sneak into the camp while the gnolls are distracted by the execution, while the captive party members just try to survive.

The free party members rope down into the gnoll camp, distracting a gnoll patrol by setting a nearby tent on fire, and make their way to Muramand’s ostentatious tent. There, they are confronted by a squad of twelve large gnolls.

Meanwhile, the captives are pushed into the arena as the vast majority of the prisoners are systematically executed. Muramand reveals that he has brokered an alliance with the werewolves, presenting one of them–an older, muscular man with short-cropped silver hair–as he orders the fight to begin. His beasts are revealed as a roc and a purple worm. The two other captives thrown in with Bhediya, Kelshar, King, and Hamo are immediately devoured by the beasts, but the party fights back with spells and wardings.

Their compatriots bluff, saying that they are on a mission for Muramand. The gnoll packleader takes a number of his men to confirm, leaving the group with two guards. Although they have difficulty fighting the heavily armored gnolls, Khymerus and Garret sprint into Muramand’s tent and find the control orb, destroying it and causing a huge explosion that blows the gnolls apart.

Immediately, the creatures go wild, feasting on gnolls. The werewolf and Muramand both try to assail the party with spells, but to no avail. The free party members interrupt a gnoll sharpshooter about to fire on one of their teammates and stop a group of werewolves from shutting the arena gate.

Hamo is almost devoured by the purple worm, but Resh rushes in, pulling him from the beast’s maw. Reunited, the full group flees the arena.

They are rejoined by Etreia, who suggests running for the questionable safety of the Infernal Cloister. On the way, they are attacked by the roc, but Silaqui attacks it, ruining one of its wings with a critical hit.

There is a small chasm between them and the temple, crossed by a makeshift bridge. The purple worm re-emerges, ridden by Muramand, who has regained control over it. As he surges toward the party, Khymerus flings a fireball at the bridge, toppling worm and rider into the chasm.

Once inside the temple, the party reactivates the disabled security spells and mechanisms at Etreia’s urging, sealing themselves inside as the doors close and the field of magic around them rises anew.

They are confronted by a group of Firesoul genasi, led by Afra, a young woman. She is initially furious, having just discovered a way out of the temple, but Khymerus calms her down. She recognizes his nature, as a tiefling, as being similar to hers.

She takes the party toward Obsidi, her leader. The temple is showing the strain of being stretched across two planes. In places, the Elemental Plane of Fire breaches in, replacing the dwarven architecture with an analogous shrine on that planar valence. Rooms are out of order and confusing.

They find Obsidi beyond a barrier he has erected. He claims that he led the genasi from the Elemental Plane of Fire, where they were enslaved in the City of Brass, and that they were pursued by a red dragon named Sarsaros. He says he can establish a Gate out of the temple, but only once its planar position is stabilized.

Allegedly, the dwarves built pillars to serve that purpose, and scouts have found two of the three. Obsidi makes a bargain: if the party will reactivate the pillars, he will get them free from the temple. They agree, and Obsidi lets Afra go with them as insurance that he will not abandon the party.

On their way to the first pillar, the party finds a fiery dagger on display, guarded by four brass statues. As Garret takes the dagger, the statues come to life, revealing themselves to be Azers, who engage the party in combat.

With some difficulty, the party vanquishes the Azers, a linked group of four who call out to their master, Thaiabraxos, as they die. Their death scream alerts the dragon Sarsaros, who chases after the party. The party steals a rusted sword from where it is displayed, triggering a large group of azers to attack the dragon, but they do not hold him for long.

Although Kelshar is able to Shatter a weak segment of the temple to deter the great drake, he chases the group to a pair of enchanted doors meant to contain elemental incursions. The party locks themselves behind the doors so that they can proceed on to the first of the stabilizing pillars.

They find that, in its absence, the Elemental Plane of Fire has bled fully into the Material Plane, merging the temple with an answering structure on the other side. This has compromised the integrity of the temple, causing magma from the plane outside and flood the area around the pillar. As the party makes their way to their goal, Thaiabraxos–who has been imprisoned within the lava–breaks free, the heat having weakened his chains. He attacks the party, awakening imprisoned azers around the chamber.

After a great deal of fumbling, Kelshar, Silaqui, and Hamo manage to repair the pillar. It activates, violently separating the two planes in that area, and Thaiabraxos is trapped on the other side of the separation.

With the immediate area around the pillar stabilized, the group finds themselves in the storage area of a huge dwarven forge overseen by a mosaic of Kossuth. They find a partially assembled magical spear, but the sword Garret recovered is too badly damaged for its powers to function. While the party rests, Garret experiences a painful and unsettling episode where he sees a great form in the darkness, equally squamous and scaled, and feels his limbs set alive with hot agony.

Refreshed, they head toward the second pillar. They phase into the Elemental Plane of Fire, finding a hallway lined with cells that have been melted open. Garret recovers a set of black elementium manacles from one of the cells with Resh’s assistance. Further down the hallway, the party finds dead azers and fire myrmidons. There are also a pair of living myrmidons guarding a large makeshift barricade.

One of the myrmidons threatens the party and comes forward. Although the party considers trying to make peace with the angry elemental, Etreia reveals herself and obliterates the other myrmidon with a Disintegrate spell from a slate grey rod she is carrying. The remaining myrmidon summons a pair of fire elementals to defend himself. As the party fights the fiery defenders, a small magma mephit teleports in and begins rushing for the barrier. Although Garret attacks the creature and follows it using his Feywild boots, it manages to escape into a small river of lava just beyond.

Once the myrmidon is vanquished, Etreia quickly puts Afra in a Hold Person spell. The warlock tells the party that she was separated from them by a ripple in the elemental valences. She reads Jannti, having encountered it while still a mostly mindless nothic. She informs them that the opposing structure to the Infernal Cloister is actually a prison, and that the genasi must have been imprisoned there.

Defiant, Afra admits that she was jailed in the prison: the Douter, named because it snuffs the light of hope out of souls interred there. She says that Obsidi led an assassination attempt against the Grand Sultan of the City of Brass, and that his group of genasi was imprisoned for it. The party forces Etreia to let Afra go, but neither woman wants to work with the other. The party begs them to resolve their differences, and they reluctantly continue on together.

Afra reveals that they are in the Black Quadrant, a portion of the prison reserved for its most dangerous criminals. The worst of these is the Exile, a partially depowered efreeti who once tried to overthrow the Grand Sultan herself.

After Khymerus weakens the barrier with acid, Resh smashes through it with his warhammer. The party makes use of Water Walking to cross the lava river beyond, but they still take considerable damage. At the end of the tunnelway, they find a grand chamber where the mephit is attempting to open a box. They are too late to prevent the creature from taking a brass bottle from within. King, Khymerus, and Garret all focus magics on the creature, obliterating it, but the bottle falls to the ground and breaks open, releasing the Exile from her imprisonment.

She perceives the group as genasi and decides to take them as slaves, but King hastily uses Moonbeam to attack her, sending her into a rage. She attempts to kill the party, her loyal azer attendants awakening and sacrificing themselves to empower her. The party–especially Silaqui and Resh, Hasted by Khymerus–prove too much for her, and they manage to kill her, with Kelshar striking the final blow.

The Exile attempts to make use of a Wish, but she dies mid-breath. The power of the spell coalesces into a small crystal, which the party recovers, along with a cloak of embers that she wore.

Beyond, they find a small shrine containing a Scroll of Focused Gate, which will allow them to banish the meteor, and the second pillar. When it is activated, it causes a storm of stone to swirl around them as it divorces the Elemental Plane of Fire from the Material Plane in that area. Most of the party is badly damaged, and the sound alerts Sarsaros, whose roars fill the air.

The party tries to remain silent as Sarsaros swiftly charges past their hiding place. In the aftermath of the dimensional separation, Garret’s pack has been torn open. As the party mends their wounds, Afra sees the battle map that Garret stole from the gnoll camp. Silaqui and Kelshar immediately recognize the geography as that of T’lindhet. Their concerns are interrupted by the sound of Sarsaros attacking a group of Genasi.

At Afra’s urging, the party goes to rescue the genasi. With Etreia’s assistance, Khymerus manages to distract the dragon by disguising himself as a gnoll, boasting of their incursion into the temple. Sarsaros charges for the entrance, leaving the remaining genasi alive. They beg Afra to return with them to safety with Obsidi, but she insists on staying with the party.

On the way to the third pillar, the party encounters Sarsaros fighting with a squad of gnolls. After one of the gnolls wounds the dragon with necrotic energy, he retreats to his lair, refusing to become easy meat. The party cleans up the remaining gnolls. Curiously, one of the shamans is revealed to be a middle-aged woman in robes after dying.

While on their way, the party passes by Sarsaros’s lair. He is attended by kobolds who are hammering a plate of metal over the necrotic and bare flesh. Rather than confront him, the party retreats and continues on their way.

After flying over an unsteady bridge along the way ahead, the way to the pillar seems to be clear, but there is another dimensional breach that reveals a huge door of shaped metal in the way. It has a lock in the shape of a dragon’s claw and appears to be powerfully warded by draconic magic.

The party returns to try and deal with Sarsaros. Khymerus disguises himself as a kobold, but Sarsaros sees through the disguise. He attacks Khymerus and the remainder of the party must sweep in. They defeat the weakened dragon by exploiting his weak side. As he lies dying, he looks into the party’s minds and sees that he was wrong about their nature. They were also wrong about his: in the dying lava light of his lair, Sarsaros is revealed to be a benevolent brass dragon. He grants them the remainder of his power in the form of draconic boons.

He reveals Obsidi’s history: the genasi was banished from Maarlith in the time after the Uprising. After being enslaved in the City of Brass, he worked in the Grand Sultan’s hell hound kennels. He used his position as a house slave to make deals with various other servants, having them scribe runes all over the palace. Obsidi’s plan was not just to kill the Grand Sultan, but to murder hundreds of genasi, then use Afra’s abilities to harvest their sheer power.

Afra admits to her part in his plan, and Garret places his elementium manacles upon her. She begs to be let free so that she can take responsibility for what she has done. The party senses the third pillar being activated: with Sarsaros dead, his enchantments on the door have also faded. Khymerus feels Obsidi creating a Gate spell, apparently planning to flee the temple without them.

They confront Obsidi in the third pillar’s chamber. Despite Kelshar’s attempts to break his spells, the genasi is too powerful. He says that he does not wish to break his word, but that he does not trust the party to treat fairly with his genasi given that he betrayed them. Afra tries to stop Obsidi, and he murders her with Finger of Death. When Etreia attempts to betray the party in exchange for a Wish from Obsidi, he laughingly refuses her, Banishing her to another dimension and revealing that he can maintain concentration upon two spells at once.

Garret attacks Obsidi, which causes him to lose his Gate, but all of the other genasi have escaped. The genasi uses a Dimension Door spell to flee. As gnolls rush in, attracted by the sounds of combat, Afra’s voice surrounds the party. She reveals that Sarsaros, foreseeing her fate, had granted her a boon that would allow her to keep the party safe. Metallic sparks whirl around them, teleporting them to Herath.

A single spark alights on Khymerus’s shoulder in the night air before winking out.

In the wake of Afra’s death, Silaqui comforts Khymerus before punching him in the stomach for an off-hand comment he made about drow and their slaves. He slouches off to the Calligraphers’ Guild to be alone there. Bhediya tries to reach out to Alinser and see if he can contact the city of T’lindhet about the evident and incumbent invasion there. Alinser informs her that the drow city is heavily warded and he cannot reach anyone within its boundaries.

After returning to their inn, the party splits up for the night. Silaqui and Bhediya head to the hot springs that give the Damp Spot its name. Garret sneaks off to the shop where he met ‘Lilith’, the albino who proved to be a rakshasa, and Resh and King go off to get new clothes.

Khymerus encounters Alinser’s shop and finds new magic items there. He cleverly alters a menu so that he can bundle the cost of a demonic soulstone in with a wardstone ring he knows that King will want, then reports back to the group. Eventually, most of the members of the party end up in the hot springs, where Silaqui and Bhediya discuss love and life. Upstairs, Garret wrestles alone with a burgeoning awareness of his otherworldly patron.

In the morning, several of the party members make their way to Alinser’s shop and purchase some needed items. Bhediya has the spear head and haft that she found in the Infernal Cloister reunited, and Kelshar and King purchase fresh armor. Afterward, they reunite and visit with Branduin. He gladly accepts the Scroll of Focused Gate from them. When confronted with the news about T’lindhet, he tells the party that he does not have any contacts in the city, not much liking the drow. He is, however, angered that Trade Prince Umbril Talraud has not seen fit to meet with Yelen Peripatas yet. He tells the party to have Yelen brought to their inn.

Silaqui visits with a merchant, Ta’firnus, who is from T’lindhet. After some discussion about the silk ropes he sold Garret and King, he agrees to send a messenger, but suggests that if she wants the city warned, she would be best doing it herself.

When the party suggests that they might go to T’lindhet personally to warn the city, he attunes a compass of his to the magic of the Sisters of Silk, giving it to Silaqui to guide them through the tunnels. He says that the drow will likely be able to talk their way past one of the Sisters. At Khymerus’s request, he also connects the tiefling to his missing manhood, which was… disconnected from him.

Branduin warns them that there is no reason the gnolls would attack T’lindhet. There is something very disconcerting about this alliance of gnolls and werewolves, and the people who are manipulating both groups. He identifies the robed figures the party has encountered throughout their journeys as members of a Farflame cult, a mystery cult that worships the Far Realm in exchange for nebulous benefits.

On their way back up from the Folly, the party is distracted by an explosion from down in the Underverge. They find that Lilith’s shop has been heavily damaged by a magical trap. While aiding the injured dwarves, they learn there was a secret shrine beneath the shop that contains sigils of both the Far Realm and the fringe tieflings responsible for Khymerus’s birth.

That evening, the party is in the Damp Spot with Yelen when they are visited by Farl Gnollbone, the chieftain of the Gnollbone Clan of dwarves and opposition leader of the city. In order to honor Yelen–and to spite Prince Talraud–Farl says that he will send two hundred dwarves to bolster the defenses of Camp Dambron.

Later at night, Silaqui sneaks out of the city. She stalks through the darkness and finds a feral werewolf devouring a dead mountain goat. Without hesitation, she murders the creature.

On the next morning, the party gathers. They decide to go to T’lindhet themselves and travel through the Underdark, reaching the domain of one of the Sisters with the aid of the compass. The creature is under attack by members of the Farflame cult. Their lead hierophant uses the power of the Far Realm to dominate the Sister, forcing her to attack the party, but the group manages to kill him and free the immense spider-woman. Only a single Farflame adherent is left standing, and he stabs himself in the neck rather than be taken.

The Sister is gravely wounded, but decides to stay at her post as long as possible. The party passes on to T’lindhet, having made it to the great drow city well ahead of the army of gnolls and werewolves.

In the Night Market of T’lindhet, the party runs across a multitude of merchants. They encounter the shop of a magician called Maligaunt, but are upset that the deep gnome traffics in slaves. With Khymerus disguised as a drow, they bluff their way up onto the plateau of T’lindhet and make their way to House A’avaleith.

There, Varithra–the seneschal and Silaqui’s cousin–lays into Silaqui over disappearing for decades. She is even more frustrated when she discovers that Silaqui’s new “slaves” are actually her traveling companions. Colicos, a truthteller who once worked for Silaqui’s father, warns her that Varithra once tried to usurp her position as heir of the house.

Silaqui commands Varithra to send word to the High Houses about the mpending attack on T’lindhet. She receives three responses out of the twelve. On the next day, she makes her case before them at the Shadowsilk Shrine before representatives of houses Morvinas, Eferis, and Voravial. Despite impassioned pleas in defense of the city, Andrastia Eferis and Larya Voravial vote against acting on her concerns, while Tethron Morvinas supports her. Silaqui and the party are dismissed and return to House A’avaleith.

There, King aids some of the druid servants keeping the grounds, while Kelshar visits his cousin Akhamet in a bid to persuade the Canton of Arcana to investigate the coming attack. Meanwhile, Bhediya begins feeling the telltale signs of her monthly transformation into a werewolf. With the aid of raw meat and Silaqui’s presence, she is able to weather the night, but not without causing a commotion that King tries to disguise with the aid of his fey guardians.

Garret sneaks off on his own and falls into a vision of his Great Old One patron. When he awakens, he is bruised and bloody, and is somehow in a park in the middle of T’lindhet. He and Kelshar separately make their way home as mourning bells begin to chime: Andrastia Eferis and Larya Voravial have been found murdered.

Archons arrive from the Canton of Order, noting Garret as he returns to his quarters at House A’avaleith. They inform Silaqui that she is strongly suspected in the murders and will need to remain home. When they depart, Varithra suggests to Silaqui that they somehow investigate the murders, as drow justice is not kind. She presents to the party a scroll of Seeming, which Khymerus is able to activate to make the non-drow members appear as drow.

Silaqui entertains Tethron Morvinas at her house. He offers his hand in marriage: as direct family of one of the Twelve, she could be freed from prosecution, murder among the Twelve being sanctified. She says that she would like some time to decide. Tethron does present Silaqui with the Blade of the Black Star, which he had removed from the custody of the Canton of Arcana.

Garret and King manage to successfully sneak into House Eferis, although the distractions the party attempts tip off the guards and King is forced to escape as a brass dragon wyrmling. The pair discover that Andrastia Eferis wasn’t just murdered, but cruelly butchered. There was no sign of forced entry, but the trellis outside is damaged, as King learns while speaking with the night jasmine clinging to the outside of Andrastia’s chambers.

As the pair, Kelshar, and Hamo check out House Voravial, they discover that someone has planted a House A’avaleith signet ring in the carnage. Khymerus is able to successfully detect a trapped statue overlooking the doorway, but intentionally triggers it and is encased in webs. After a fruitless search, the party returns home to House A’avaleith.

There, they discover that Silaqui’s chambers were broken into during the night when she was not present. They also find one of Tethron’s hairs.

Silaqui requests a public audience with Tethron so she can answer his proposal. At the Shadowsilk Shrine, she meets with him. He is shocked, then annoyed, when she challenges him to a duel. Although he manages to surprise her with his Bardic powers, she kills him and his corpse is devoured by spiders.

On the way back to House A’avaleith, the party decides to call themselves the Harbingers. They return and are greeted by Varithra, who is extremely pleased that Silaqui has raised the house’s station. Silaqui has her draw up documents making Varithra the official heir of House A’avaleith, though the drow seneschal advises caution in the handling of House Morvinas.

The Harbingers are summoned to the Canton of Defense at the request of Illyan Denebros. He has a large scrying crystal trained upon the encroaching gnoll army, which is nearing T’lindhet. The Night Market has been evacuated at the decision of the priestesses of Lolth, and the Canton of Defense has set up a guarded magical barricade around the portal up to the plateau.

This does not stop the gnolls, who send squadrons of wyverns to deposit troops directly into the city. After a battle with the Harbingers, a gnoll flind detonates some sort of magical device which tears open a portal to the army below. The Canton of Arcana is bombed by one of the wyverns, and the wards on the plateau fail.

With the aid of Akhamet, who was leading a squad of defenders in the city, the party retreats to the Canton of Defense. They learn from Akhamet and an archmage named Tillar that there’s only one reason why the gnolls would have targeted the Canton of Arcana: they’re aware that the canton houses a control for two huge stone golems made to defend T’lindhet.

Using old tunnels between the cantons, the party catches up with a group of Farflame cultists trying to reactivate the golems. They’ve already managed to co-opt the room’s security functions. Fighting off the oppressive corruption of a Farflame hierophant, they manage to stop him from activating the golems, but do not successfully disarm the room’s security. The defense construct within explodes, injuring Khymerus and Silaqui and nearly trapping Garret within the crumbling chamber.

Fleeing the geological disturbances caused by the explosion, the party runs along the tunnels and finds themselves in a cave that looks out over the Night Market. From there, they can see that the golems have joined the battle, potentially turning the tide against the attacking army.

The party wanders the tunnels within the plateau, but are unable to make their way back up to the cantons due to the damage to the tunnel system. Gnollish shamans manage to bespell the golems, knocking one of them back into the rock face below. After a difficult climb, they scrabble down the fallen golem. They notice that one of the tents in the warcamp appears to be the same as one near where half of the party was imprisoned back in the mountains. Deducing that some of their stolen gear might be there, they take advantage of the chaos in the warcamp as the drow counterattack the gnolls.

The party runs afoul of a squad of gnolls and werewolves, but manage to defeat them and recover some of their stolen gear. The recovered items include the communications sphere that Kria gave the party, but it seems damaged and does not function.

While in the camp, the party decides that they will interrupt one of the shaman circles conducting a ritual in hopes that it will aid the city. They manage to defeat the ritualists, which causes an impressive magical disruption. A large portion of the army simply vanishes, having been revealed to be illusory, and many of the Farflame cultists are revealed as humans, magnifying the confusion. Before long, the golems get free of the enchantments laid upon them and the chaos turns into an all-out rout.

However, all is not well: Khymerus and Bhediya work together to try and repair the sphere. They cannot, but they do manage to stabilize its signal briefly. Kria has been attempting to reach them as she has seen signs of gnoll outriders approaching Heller’s Fort.

After making their way back through the restored portal to T’lindhet proper, the party returns to House A’avaleith. The manor fared well during the battle, in large part due to the wards that Bhediya left on the gate, which took out an unsuspecting gnoll pack. Varithra is pleased to see Silaqui. Although she does try to encourage her cousin’s interest in Illyan Denebros, she understands that Silaqui must leave to finish matters with the meteor. Varithra provides Silaqui with a map of the Deep Gate system begun by their grandmother in hopes that it will help the Harbingers get ahead of the gnollish force. She surmises that Muramand must have sent the smaller force against T’lindhet to ensure that the drow would not attack the gnolls from behind while they made use of the Underdark to strike southward.

The Harbingers find Maligaunt’s wagon in the city. Engaging with the amoral deep gnome, they purchase sympathy bangles that allow limited telepathy among their wearers and a crystal necessary to power a Deep Gate. They even secure passage with Maligaunt to the nearest Gate. Bhediya contacts Branduin and lets him know that they are headed for Heller’s Fort.

During a visit with Illyan Denebros at the Canton of Defense, the party is quietly honored for their efforts on behalf of the city. Things will be in flux in T’lindhet for a while. No one knows how to deactivate the golems, which are preventing the Night Market from being reestablished. This is a serious financial concern for the city, which is in the process of rebuilding. Denebros grants them a few pieces of drow equipment and Luth’s bow, Venge, which was recovered from the gnolls.

Traveling with Maligaunt, the party makes for the Deep Gate. Although Garret is able to activate it with the knowledge he gained from the Crown of Invention, the gate at the ruins of Crimar is damaged, and the party spends days in the Shadowfell, with no memory of the time that has passed. They make their way northward and find that the gnollish force is deeply entrenched around Heller’s Fort. Both forces have suffered heavy casualties.

Having spotted a rudimentary drainage system leading to Rasius’s nearby manor complex, they trudge through the mucky tunnels. A floating treasure chest proves to be a necrotic mimic, which reanimates two dead gnoll scouts and a fallen Saltpeter in the sewer tunnels. After defeating the undead monstrosities, the battered party is able to access Rasius’s manor. They are escorted to Virigo, Kria, and Brandiun.

Things have not gone well for the defenders. Although they can defend the manor against Muramand’s siege engines, Kria has lost roughly half of her force trying to prevent access to the fortress, which has become suffused with the reality-warping energies of the Far Realm. She offers the party a place to rest, and suggests a plan: her Saltpeters will make one last sacrificial charge to distract the gnoll force so that the Harbingers and Branduin can destroy the meteor for good.

With this plan hanging over their heads, the party heads to sleep. They awaken in the dark of morning as a strike force of werewolves attacks the manor, breaching its defenses easily. Branduin rushes to find the Harbingers, and tells them that if they’re going to make it to the keep, it must be done now or not at all.

The Harbingers hurry out of their chambers, mowing down a group of werewolf and gnoll attackers out in the hallway. Although the battle is noisy and bloody, they do not attract unwanted notice, as the entire manor house is engulfed in combat. The party sneaks down to the lower story of the manor, aided by Pass Without a Trace and a powerful Invisibility spell from Branduin. They decide that it’s a priority to make it to Dalwhin’s smithy first, as Bhediya’s armor is there.

Upon approaching the smithy, they overhear Karal discussing things with an intangible projection of Velasco. They learn that Velasco did not sanction Karal’s alliance with the gnolls. The Malarite Chosen warns that Karal will never be welcome among Malar’s packs again if his allies fail against the Saltpeter Coterie. At that moment, a ragged band of Saltpeters attacks Karal from down the opposing hallway. He easily holds them off, and when Bhediya makes a run for her armor, he dispels her invisibility as well.

He seems delighted in being able to toy with her, allowing her to retrieve her armor, and telling her he’ll see her soon. The party makes their way toward the sewers, hoping for a moment to regroup and plan exactly how to get to Heller’s Fort. There, they run into Kria, Virigo, and Dalwhin Kell, who are in the midst of planning to detonate caches of gunpowder strategically placed across Rasius’s lands. Kria insists that she be the one to detonate them, denying the secrets of the Saltpeters to the gnollish army, but at the last minute, Dalwhin insists that he is near the end of his time, and should be the one to do the deed.

Kelshar tries to convince Dalwhin that, together, they could detonate the cache and use spells to escape, but Kell refuses. He believes that the Harbingers will need Kelshar with them, and does not wish to chance taking two lives instead of just one.

With a countdown established, Kria and Virigo escape with servants and injured Saltpeters, and the party heads out of the manor and toward the keep. With the battle raging in full force outside, they are able to make it most of the way undetected. Dalwhin detonates the gunpowder caches, tearing apart a good portion of the gnoll army, but the faltering Saltpeter line is breached and Muramand leads a small honor guard of gnolls into Heller’s Fort. It seems that the remaining Saltpeters are doomed, but Blais arrives with her Selunite werewolf pack, responding to Bhediya’s Sending. With the distraction of her arrival, the party hastens into the fortress after Muramand.

They find that the keep is coming apart at the seams under the influence of the Far Realm. Reeling from a sudden outbreak of madness, they are pursued by several werewolves and hurry into a strange new hallway that did not exist before. The doors of the hallway melt away, revealing that the very stones of the room have become sentient. The far wall advances on the werewolves and Harbingers alike. When their leader is killed, two of the werewolves offer to help fight the wall, an alliance of convenience. One falls, but the adventurers are able to destroy the monstrous wall.

The remaining lycanthrope and the Harbingers are barely recovered from their struggles when Karal arrives, flinging vile spells at them that Branduin interrupts. The dwarven wizard pushes the party aside, saying that he will deal with Karal. They must stop Muramand. The task of banishing the meteor to the Gullet of Ao falls to Khymerus.

As the party flees from Karal, they find themselves approaching a stairway to the keep’s ramparts. This architectural feature did not exist before. Around them, shards of probability float like broken glass in the air, and they see themselves–older and more experienced–marching through the Far Realm toward a final battle against some unknowable entity. The creature regards the current party, and they are struck by a wave of madness. Along the stairway, they see other possible versions of themselves heading toward the meteor.

They climb the stairs to find another possibility’s version of Auseus Grey. The Saltpeter commander sees them as alien invaders, and his troops fire upon the party. Unable to communicate with the deranged Coterie members, they are forced to fight through them to Rasius’s audience chamber, where the meteor is interred.

There, Muramand confronts them. His sole remaining shaman reveals himself as a Farflame cultist, proclaiming that Muramand was created by the cult in order to gain them access to the meteor. The cult has abused their ability to see into potentialities via the Far Realm, and has manipulated events toward this conclusion. Muramand exclaims that he will not be a puppet, but the cultist informs him that a puppet is all he has ever been. He activates Muramand, transforming him into a massive monstrosity that begins assailing the party.

Throughout the battle, reality begins to fray apart as the meteor comes awake. It has swollen to an immense size and writhes with pseudopods. The party sees glimpses into other parts of their own reality. They see Virigo and Kria escaping the sewers, vowing to flee to Maarlith with the survivors. They also witness Blais, triumphant despite heavy losses among her pack, leading what remains of her Selunites in a prayer to their goddess to intercede. Battered and beaten, the party manages to kill Muramand at last, but they are unprepared as his death provides the final energy needed to awaken the meteor. Resh tries to destroy the meteor with the Blade of the Black Star, but the sword becomes lodged within the greater bulk of the burgeoning cocoon.

Ithen-athoth, a newborn being of the Far Realm, comes to life at the end of its long incubation. Its arrival in the world fragments reality, shattering Heller’s Fort and pulling the party into a liminal place between the Material Plane and what lies beyond. They fight Ithen-athoth, their travails visible through a growing rend in the skies above eastern Dambrath. At last, they injure Ithen-athoth enough to send the creature into a fugue state.

Khymerus casts Ithen-athoth, the Black Star, into the fiery abyss of the gullet of Ao. As the monstrosity and the Blade of the Black Star begin to dissolve, Resh finds himself pulled apart at a fundamental level, his body unable to sever itself from the power binding him to his long-time weapon.

The shards of Heller’s Fort begin to fall out of the liminal space. Blais arrives, riding the ki-rin, to teleport the party safely to Luenath, but Resh is lost.

As the Harbingers are greeted by a silent, empty Luenath, they find themselves free of a terrible burden they have carried for months. The meteor is destroyed and Dambrath–and perhaps Toril itself–is safe, for now.

Some time later, a creature with no memories of its former self awakens as a nothic in a deep, dark cavern. It is greeted by a beautiful woman: Etreia.