Clapping echoed out behind the party. Wolfe, Nashua, and Siva gathered at the edge of the rise, staring down the stairs where Xalith stood. Behind the drow warrior were five underlings with Nitsuj and Moira bound and forced on their knees. Each drow brandished poison-tipped crossbows and spider-hilted swords.
“Congratulations. You have manuevered yourselves into a situation where I can deliver you to my mistress,” she sneered. “Without interference from the dwarves.”
Flumphy was bobbing in the air above them. Tactics were discussed as well as many colorful four letter words from these tiresome drow, under the cover of a shared telepathy courtesy of their flumph ally. The last thing they wished to do was be returned to Ilvara, and sacrificed to their spider queen.
Siva’s face cracked with a smile of blood expected.
The woman warrior leapt from the top of the stairs with Wolfe on her heels. A volley of magic missiles streaked above them, and the percussion of the beads of light could be heard as they downed the drow standing behind Nitsuj. Chaos ensued as Siva hacked at the two standing above Siva, and Wolfe stabbed Xalith through the chest.
Nitsuj broke free of his bonds. A crossbow as at his feet. He loaded it and put a bolt into Xalith’s back as his second head screeched like a feral primate. Wolfe and Siva were as a hurricane of blades as they hacked down the dark elves, leaving no man left standing, and no man left breathing.
“Uh, guys? We’re not alone,” said Flumphy.
Nashua looked down the cavern, muttering an incantation. He spotted three invisible duergar stoneguard approaching.
The stoneguard had been scouring the tunnels eliminating all resistance. Their leader popped into vision. It didn’t take much explanation from Kazramir. The bodies of the derro cultists, their savants, and the hacked up drow brought a smile to the commander’s face. In his eyes, these surfacers were heroes.
Only one believed them that a fiend was behind Steelshadow‘s genocidal madness, and only that same person knew how to cure one of Demogorgon’s influence. They delivered Nitsuj to the stonespeaker to cure. Nashua, Wolfe, and Kaz waited in the main chamber of Clan Cairngorm as the magical assault in the next room tortured Nitsuj to a cure.
The were used to the duergar architecture… pragmatic and simple in form. The stone giants were much more beautiful in their designs, as smooth pillars stretched a hundred feet above them with intricate mosaics and designs shined in the yellow light of the torches.
“Bring this to the Deepking when you have your audience. He will not see me.”
“Three savants,” said Kaz. “That’s much better than two. Thank you, stonespeaker.”
“It is you who I should be thanking,” said the stonespeaker. He leaned down from above them, producing a small metal flask with a rubber stopper. He placed it in Nashua‘s hands, "Open this vessel in Shal’s presence. If she is what you say she it, then she will be taken care of."
Nashua had read of these containers. Similar to a genie’s lamp, these magical flasks would imprison any extraplanar creature it was aimed at, if it were empty. He shook it once. The container was empty enough. Now it was time to face Shal.
Never in any of his travels, his research, or all of the time spent observing adventure’s who had possessed Oghma’s Tome had Kazramir seen anything as intimidating as the Hold of the Deepking. It was difficult to pinpoint what upset him more about this menacing structure.
Was it that he could hear only a fraction of the Deepking’s bodyguards who surrounded them invisibly? The percussion of their stomping boots was almost as frightening as the silences, where you could feel the eyes of the countless stoneguard upon you.
Was it the oppressive heat wafting off of the fortress? The magma flowed in a glowing stream through the dark smog, running down the sides of the fortress as a moat of immolation.
Or was it that Hgraam, their friend and escort, supposedly a close friend of Deepking Horgar Steelshadow V was forced to wait outside? The stonespeaker was was a tower of strength above them, yet must obey and protect this god forsaken City of Blades no matter the cost to his own people. The stonespeaker’s integrity was that of legend.
Each of them that had been found in the Whorlstone Tunnels was escorted to the throne of the Deepking. A malevolent glint danced across his eyes, an insanity that was becoming all too frequent in not only Gracklstugh, but pervasive throughout the Underdark. Horgar was outfitted in the finest of red and gold dwarven plate. A massive steel warhammer emblazoned with Clan Steelshadow’s insignia leaned upon his wrought iron throne. A glowing pendant of enchanted faerzress hung around his neck.
“You know where to toss their heads!” smiled the Deepking so broadly that his gums retreated from his teeth. Wolfe tossed the three heads into the pile. Nashua counted thirty-five heads, and not a single one of them was Y. Thank Tymora for small favors.
Siva kept Moira close as they watched the royal consort enter from the shadow behind the throne. Shal was wearing naught but a dress knit of gold coins. Glimpses of her gray, naked skin could be seen through the gaps. The sight of her was mesmerizing. None of them duergar, the group, even Jimjar, found it difficult to tear their eyes away from her as she gracefully crossed the dais to be with her king.
She whispered something in the Deepking’s ear.
“Why were you in the tunnels?” demanded Horgar Steelshadow.
Kazramir spoke up for the group, “We were eliminating cultists who have been poisoning your city. Followers of Demogorgon.”
The Deepking‘s face twisted in disgust at the Prince of Demon’s name.
“Prince of Demons!” he spit. “Such nonsense. Such small small nonsense.”
“Rewards?” he asked. “Oh yes. Rewards. With the derro gone, I will give you the Halls of Sacred Scrolls under one condition. You keep the door you made. Hgraam spoke well of your exploits.”
“Deal!” said Kazramir, excited to own a keep, no matter the location. “Thank you Deepking.”
“You’re still here?” he asked the group. “You’re dismissed. Get out of my sight.”
Wolfe twisted the cap off of the bottle. A bright beam of light leapt out of it, snagging Shal. She burned, smoked and was yanked forward through the air, smashing against an invisible wall like a bug on a windshield. The fiend’s screams echoed throughout the chamber.
“Crap,” cursed Nashua, muttering an incantation that was quickly becoming his favorite. His eyes took on a bright blue sheen as worlds beyond their own became obvious to him. He could see not only the protective barrier separating them from the throne, but the scores of duergar in the buttresses high above them ready to fire.
“The wall is about twenty feet high!” he shouted to Kaz. The bard was on it, and summoned an invisible servant to carry the iron flask over the wall. Before the flask could reach the top and suck Shal into its pocket dimension, the fiend disappeared.
“Cease fire!” shouted Horgar, enraged that they would dare attack his concubine. He brandished his warhammer in the air. “Dismiss the wall! I will deal with these surfacers personally!”
The wall disappeared and Nashua had his eyes on her again. The fiend was in the ethereal plane, snarling.
Back in the tunnels Nitsuj had found a handful of magical bolts on Xalith. These bolts were enchanted by Lolth, with a spider on each tip. He fired a single bolt at the Deepking, lodging it in his armor, and trapping the fierce duergar where he was. Horgar struggled, but the sticky strands only grew tighter. Siva barely pulled herself out of the webbing.
Shal appeared beside Nitsuj as he opened fire on the others. Her mind control was working to keep them back as she went in to kiss him.
Jimjar fired on her, his bolts barely scratching her. Siva charged, and took a swing that would have decapitated a mortal man, but her neck withstood the assault. A small trickle of blood ran down her neck as she hissed, knocking Siva to the side.
The throne room illuminated in bright light again. Before her lips could touch Nitsuj‘s, a loving gesture perverted by the abyssal nature of the fiend, she was torn away screeching. Wolfe attempted to rip her dress off (it’s worth a lot of money) as she was sucked into her prison, but was too slow. Maybe when he got desperate he’d let her out and get it back from her.
Deepking Horgar Steelshadow V was freed from the webs, and shouted at them to stand back. He paced back and forth, irritable, piecing together what he had done and what he had gained and lost under the succubus’ mind control. Several minutes later he grudgingly thanked the surfacers for their help.
“What you have done here I cannot fathom. No surfacer has ever served my clan as you have, and I owe you my rulership and my life. Fiends! It must be those drow.”
The group stood awkwardly listening to him curse the drow of Menzoberranzan. He ordered his bodyguards to bring in Hgraam.
“I will make each of you a laird of Clan Steelshadow,” he said. “Keep the Halls of Sacred Scrolls. You are landowners, but you have no power. If anyone has a problem with you in my city or without, they will have a problem with me.”
As Hgraam entered, the Deepking pointed at the group, “The drow who are responsible will pay. All drow must pay. By the end of the week I will have our military ready to march on Menzoberranzan with you in the lead. Will you do this for Gracklstugh? Will you destroy our enemies?”
Hgraam said, “Deepking. I have better use of them. You, my liege, must rest.”
For a moment it looked as if the Deepking was going to snarl back at Hgraam, but he backed down. The stonepeaker was wise and often Horgar had sought council from him. He was being brash. But the drow must be punished.
The Stonespeaker’s Proposal
Nobody from the surface, nor from the Underdark, had ever been deep enough inside of Clan Cairngorm’s caverns to see what the group beheld now. Around them were centuries of beautiful marble and stone carved out from the earth, with statues representing pieces of the clan’s history. The Stonespeaker’s Refuge was too tall to see the ceiling. Torches spiraled up around the stonework, casting long shadows down the walls and across the floor. Never in their life had any of them seen such beauty.
Hgraam led them to an empty wall, and outstretched his hand toward its surface. The rock appeared to respond to his presence, pulsating back toward him. Or it could have been their imagination.
“Never before has a surfacer been permitted here. Dream people rarely leave us breathless. They never leave a historical impact. Therefore, I will immortalize you three forever in these caverns.”
The group could hardly find the right words.
“I have a final request,” said Hgraam , searching for the right words. “Small folk are not familiar with our ways. We have a caste system. The ordening. The ordening has been broken, shattered like so much brittle rock,” he said, emphasizing by crushing a small stone into dust.
Kaz asked, “Is there a way for us to fix this?”
“Fix? No. Change? Perhaps. We met before you laid eyes on me the first time, and you gave me the flask, saying that you would be back to claim it and help my people keep their word to Clan Steelshadow. This came true. I prayed to ”/characters/skoraeus_stonebones" class=“wiki-content-link”>Skoraeus Stonebones, our god, and he advised me that I should trust you. So I did. And Stonebones never trusts one who is not of my people."
Hgraam reached high above his head, removing three stones with glowing runes. He ran his fingers down them, feeling the magic within.
“My people are near the bottom of the ordening. If you believe me to be a good leader, and believe that I may be wise enough to lead all giants, I ask that you journey to the dream world and help to move my people to the top of the ordening. Will you do this for us? For me?”
Their friendship with Hgraam had been such that nobody second-guessed the stone giant. If there were a better giant to lead all giants, as grand a vision as it sounded, they knew of no other.
Wolfe stepped forward, “Consider it done.” The others nodded along.
The old giant smiled. It wasn’t often such an expression broke a stone giant’s contemplative face.
“I will send Rihuud with you, to lead you to the garden I spoke of not long ago. When you reach the surface beware. Another clan has been poisoned by evil posing as our wise and benevolent god. Find a way to cure them, or destroy them. That is all I ask.”
As further gifts, Hgraam handed the runes to his new friends. No one had any clue how small folk could affect something as big as the ordening, but with the gods willing, they would find a way. If all went well, Hgraam would join them on the surface soon, for a calling that outweighed his promise to Clan Steelshadow.
A Creature of Darkness
The ritual wasn’t strong enough.
Nitsuj clawed at the walls of the Whorlstone Tunnels. The faerzress parted like glowing dust between his fingers. He drew his piwafwi about him, concealing the hideousness of his true nature. His limbs shook. His eyes twitched. The madness had overtaken him and he debated now whether to spare the live of the duergar stoneguard standing watch up ahead.
He held onto the sliver of black metal stolen from Droki. Like a magnet it pulled at him. It tugged within his hand. The Keepers of the Flame were here, and they spoke of an obelisk found during the scouring.
“Let us kill him!” his second head hissed, and Nitsuj threw a hand over its mouth. The fiend’s influence on his mind had reactivated the curse placed upon him by the derro cultists. He couldn’t bear to face his comrades again.
Nitsuj gulped a pygmywart and shrunk enough to squeeze through a small crevasse. It led to the chamber with the obelisk. The duergar studying the black obelisk responded to his presence. These psionic priests were too perceptive, and too dangerous. Besides, he wasn’t a big fan of the Keepers.
A well-placed crossbow bolt rammed through the priest’s eye socket, killing the dwarf outright. In a mad scramble Nitsuj was atop the priest, holding a length of his hair in one hand and a dagger in the other.
He cast his gaze aside. He wasn’t here to make another hair doll, not a hair doll of an enemy.
The black obelisk hummed with power. Nitsuj took two step toward it. The black sliver of metal in his hand jumped and danced. Fine cracks were obvious within the magical stone, and as if directed, Nitsuj placed the tiny sliver into the obelisk. The metal was absorbed like it had been water condensing on the surface.
The faerzress above him was bright like sunlight. Nitsuj looked up into the ceiling, imagining the warmth of the sun he would never see. Ignoring the screams of his evil twin, Nitsuj reached forward and touched the smooth surface of the obelisk.
His arm tingled. Breath was violently sucked out of his lungs. He found himself suddenly in a long dark corridor buried in the ruins of a civilization consumed by the Underdark. He ran down the corridor. All that was left was him. The creature.