The party’s voyage took them out across the Darklake towards the ruddy lights of Gracklstugh in the distance.
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 Calamity didn’t get any second looks as he was far from the only illithid 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 unconcious. 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’s offer several hours later, 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 decided to partake in the merchant sect of the city, buying items, tattoos and slaves. During this, a male duergar framed Celeste for theft she did not commit, and in turn got her and her companions in trouble with the guards. When they arrived in custody at the guard station, they made a deal with the guard captain 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.
They scouted the city and reported various corrupt citizens to the guard captain, and undertook a mission to find a thief by the name of Droki.
Later, they met with the Keepers of the Flame and their leader, Gartokkar Xundorn. They also spoke with the great Wyrmsmith Themberchaud, who gave them quests of his own.
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 himself with a sneer and a lick of his 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 his diet of captive slaves, something he 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 greeted the party. He confirmed that was indeed in need of their assistance, and that his task was a straightforward one – the Keepers of the Flame had found a red dragon egg and tried to raise it to replace him. The Grey Ghosts stole in from them and hid it in the Whorlstone Caves. Find and break the egg, and bring the shell back as proof. He believed the dwarves believed red dragons to be a herald of their deity but that Themberchaud was becoming a bit too willful and resistant in his religious duties to them. He told the party to speak with one of the keepers and to do what they said – the dwarves didn’t know he knew their plan but he assumed they would likely enlist the party to retrieve investigate the tunnels for the odd magic coming from there.
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 surveying the tunnels. The only lead they had was a derro named Droki. 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 party went through the cave mouth they had tracked Droki too—which so happened to be the Whorlstone Tunnels— and entered the cave complex, where they met Flumph. 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, 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. At this, Sarith went nearly mad, driven into partial temporary insanity by the Demon Queen of Fungi’s spores. They invited the party to join them as they were celebrating the impending marriage of their new queen to her intended.
Flumph 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 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.
The party reported back to the Keepers, and then returned to smash the egg and obelisk, putting the pieces into their bags. The dragon was appropriately grateful, shoveling a pile of gems her hoard toward them, then told them of her second request: to slay the young adult black dragon impeding on her territory: Murk.