The party’s voyage took them out across the Darklake towards the ruddy lights of Gracklstugh in the distance. Before they could reach the city, Artorius detected a strange psychic resonance reaching out from below the waters. Somewhere between curious as to what it could be and worried as to what may be lurking below them, the party investigated, finding a cave entrance in a massive stalagmite leading into a series of tunnels below the lake.
The source of the psychic call proved to be more curious than worrisome as the party met Glabbagool, an intelligent (more or less) gelatinous cube. How it became intelligent it couldn’t quite say but given the recent happenings and that its home was an abandoned temple of Juiblex, it’s likely that the presence of the demon lords had something to do with it. Friendly enough and certainly an interesting curiosity, the party brought Glabbagool with, much to the delight of Sloopidoop.
Upon reach Gracklstugh, Sloopidoop dropped off the party before departing back into the Darklake along with Shuushar and Glabbagool. Now in a mostly friendly town, several of the Velkynvelve Prisoners also took their leave, only Eldeth Feldrun, Jimjar, and Stool staying with the group, plus the rescued halfling Fargas Rumblefoot.
Following Jimjar’s advice, the party set up at an inn named Ghohlbrorn’s Lair, it’s name a rather derogatory term for non-dwarves but the inn itself being the most welcoming place for outsiders in the city. The Blade Bazaar, the district in which the inn was located, proved to be a much bigger melting pot than anywhere else in the Underdark the party had encountered – even The Bloodhorn didn’t get any second looks as he was far from the only minotaur in the city. The party spent a few days enjoying what they could of the city, sleeping in proper beds with meals of more than just mushrooms and a chance to actually spend some of their coin. The relative peace of the city was shattered one day at the bazaar though as a two-headed giant burst through one of the outer guard walls, rampaging through the market with reckless abandon.
The party joined the fight with the duergar guards that seemed to be having a hard time wrangling the beast and managed to take it down. The beast was far from an ettin though, appearing more to be a mutated stone giant with its second head being much smaller and malformed. Shortly on the trail of the monstrosity, a young stone giant in shamanistic attire ran up, slightly dismayed to see the other one dead. After conversing with the duergar and handing them a small bag, he turned to the party and thanked them for what they had done, inviting them to come with him to visit his clan at Cairngorm Cavern, an offshoot of Gracklstugh, if they wanted to find out what happened. He then took the body and left.
The party followed the giant, unable to resist the lure of information or the safe passage he could guarantee through the parts of the city normally restricted to outsiders. The stone giant’s cavern was massive, the walls studded with gemstones of all variety, including faerzress, and dwellings carved directly into the walls. Waiting for the party was a wizened stone giant named Hgraam Stonespeaker. The giant spoke little, thanking the party for returning their corrupted brethren to the stone and rewarding them with with the Stonespeaker Crystal. He then relayed a cryptic warning of the visions he had received upon returning from the Dreamlands:
“Something evil stirs in the Underdark. The rock itself cries in pain and horror, and a madness creeps from the blackest depths. Pay heed to the signs surrounding you. A cave with two faces. Rock devoured, and the land overgrown. The pebble believes itself flesh. The earth rejects its wards, and the tunnels shake in fury. By these portents, you shall know of evil’s presence and of evil’s face. This is what the stones tell me.”
Left with that to think about, the party returned to their inn. With nothing else to do in the city at present, the party used their token from Grazilaxx to contact The Society of Brilliance. Within the day, they were visited by Blurg who offered them transportation to the society’s headquarters. He sailed them out into nearly the middle of the Darklake before activating an enchantment on his boat that caused it to sink below the water, safely surrounded by a bubble of air. The boat steered into a cave at the base of a now underwater stalagmite before rising up to a dock in a hallway of worked stone leading towards a massive double door emblazoned with the symbol of the society.
Blurg led the party through the doors where they were greeted by Grazilaxx and Sloop, welcoming them to their headquarters. The structure had a variety of architectural styles, some hallways carved in geometric dwarven patterns, others in fine marble from surface mines, and still others more alien. While given largely free access to the society’s libraries and other facilities (including a hot spring bathing room), there were still restricted areas as they weren’t members. Artorius and Namie were very set on changing that fact though and petitioned Grazilaxx to join them. He seemed a bit hesitant at first since most of them were from or had plans to return to the surface which made their desire to sincerely aid the Underdark suspect. However, they managed to convince him of their intentions and he gave them a test – contact their agent Themberchaud in Gracklstugh and perform the task she gave them. He then introduced them to another member of the society, a duergar Stone Guard named Errde Blackskull.
Errde gave the party insignias that would allow them to travel freely through the city and told them to go to the Temple of the Keepers of the Flame, the center of worship for the chief duergar deity Laduguer. There, they would present a different token to whichever priest they encountered and tell them they have an audience with Themberchaud.
Once back in Gracklstugh, the plan went exactly as Errde said it would. Once in the temple, a black basalt pyramid lined with dozens of braziers, the first priest the party encountered, upon seeing the symbol, led them to the main altar where a secret switch slid it aside, revealing a long staircase down.
At the bottom of the stairs, the party was greeted by a wave of oppressive heat and a sight from their dreams – a pile of gold twice as tall as a man. The owner of the gold soon revealed herself with a sneer and a lick of her reptilian lips, a massive red dragon trundling forward through the pile of gold. Though impressive in size as any dragon, the dragon was exceptionally large, apparently overweight from her diet of captive slaves, something she mistook the party for being. Themberchaud postured a bit for the invisible duergar in the room before suggesting, rather forcefully, that they leave.
Once alone, Themberchaud assumed her human form, a surprisingly pleasant, plump matronly type, and greeted the party. She confirmed that was was indeed a member of the society and that her task was a straightforward one – retrieve her stolen egg. The Keepers of the Flame had taken it from her with the intent to raise it as her replacement, the dwarves believing red dragons to be a herald of their deity but that Themberchaud was becoming a bit too willful and resistant in her religious duties to them. However, the dwarves themselves had lost the egg to the city’s thieves guild, the Grey Ghosts. If the party returned her egg to her, she would not only reward them but sponsor their membership to the society. She told the party to speak with one of the keepers and to do what they said – the dwarves didn’t know she knew their plan but she assumed they would likely enlist the party to retrieve the egg.
The dragon was right. Once the party talked to the red-robed dwarf at the top of the stairs, he gave them the task of retrieving the egg from the thieves. The only lead they had was a derro named Droki. Though they didn’t know if he was directly involved with the theft, they did know that he ran packages for the ghosts and that he would probably have information if nothing else. Droki turned out to be rather easy to track down, a derro scurrying around the bazaar talking to himself wasn’t exactly a common sight, but he turned out to be much harder to catch as he turned invisible and sped away faster than he should be able to.
The second plan was a little more unorthodox but surprisingly more effective. Alfh and Silaria constructed a fake red dragon egg out of paper mache then put out the word, with the help of Jimjar, that they had “something big” to sell. The word spread pretty quickly and they had an offer within a day. A group of leather-clad duergar escorted them and their dragon egg into Laduguer’s Furrow, a cleft through the middle of the city which was effectively a ghetto for the derro. It didn’t prove quite as easy as all that though when the duergar attacked outside a cave entrance, using their invisibility to try getting the jump on the party. Droki again showed his face as he attempted to steal the egg but was again found out and beat a hasty retreat.
After the duergar were dealt with, the party went through the door and entered a cave complex.The entire cave was studded with faerzress and mushrooms of all types, of note two magical varieties that caused someone to shrink or grow when ingested. In one of the cave’s chambers, the party found their old friend Buppido, his true nature revealed as he babbled and shouted incoherently for a bit before threatening the party with death and summoning a group of undead to aid him. The party defeated him and found that his summoning circle was attempting to reach something from the outer planes, though they disrupted the ritual, and the circle, before it could be completed.
Further into the cave, they found a group of myconid swaying and dancing, reveling in the light of the faerzress. They invited the party to join them as they were celebrating the impending marriage of their new queen to her intended. Aware that this was referring to the machinations of the demon queen Zuggtmoy, the party respectfully declined, except for Artorius who accepted to be connected to their beautiful queen. What he saw was other myconid all throughout the Underdark doing the same, even catching a glimpse of Zuggtmoy and Araumycos. However, that night, someone seemed to take exception of another influence reaching his mind and he dreamed of the spores being ripped from him by unseen tentacles from the dark. By morning, he was fine.
Overnight, the party found a new guest as a flumph floated to where they were resting, introducing himself as Flumph. Flumph and the other flumphs lived in this cave once though they were kicked out by the derror cultists. After them came the duergar theives, and at that point there was no room left for the flumph. He gave them a rundown of the layout of the cave and where to find the other factions, wanting to help the group in whatever way he can, despite not being much of a fighter.
Flumph’s layout proved to be pretty accurate as they found two sets of cultists, the first attempting to summon “the Demon Prince of Undeath and the Lord of Blood.” Further into the cave, they found more cultists guarding the dragon egg and, more interestingly, a massive obelisk made out of some black material that could have been metal or stone, was cool to the touch, and appeared to be a null space in the fabric of the Weave, disrupting any magic that came into contact with it. Its purpose could not yet be gleaned, even after the party took a rest to study it, but they had more urgent matters to attend to. A search of the rest of the cavern turned up what looked like where the thieves likely were but had abandoned after the fighting had started. Past where Flumph had said there was a water weird summoned by the cultists (which the party managed to avoid), they found the Black Crystal Sword, seemingly a shard from the larger obelisk but clearly fashioned to be a weapon. After some experimenting, they determined that it could only be effectively wielded by someone who couldn’t use magic, so the Bloodhorn gladly took it up.
The party retrieved the egg, putting it into their magical bag along with Namie to keep it magically heated as something appeared to be stirring inside. They used their copy egg to fool the duergar priests as to their plan, getting them to help make it more realistic so they could use it to fool the thieves, while Silaria sneaked below to return the egg to Themberchaud. The dragon was appropriately grateful, shoveling a pile from her hoard into their bag after removing the egg, then told them to head back to the society headquarters where she would meet them.
Psychically reaching out to Grazilaxx, Artorius called for a lift as they swiftly headed to the docks. Blurg was already waiting with his magical boat and brought the party back to the society. Within a couple days, Themberchaud arrived as well, hurrying her egg to the hot springs. There was a brief ceremony as the party was inducted into the society, their deed for Themberchaud and their information on the derro cult and their obelisk serving as their qualifications. Afterwards, they were all asked to join at the hot springs as they saw another event take place – the hatching of Themberchaud’s egg.
Now officially dedicated protectors of the Underdark, the party took some time to rest and ready themselves in the safety of the society’s headquarters, preparing for their next move.