“The journey to Slubludopp should take eight days,” the kua-toa pacifist reminded the party as they broke down the hastily made camp. The mood was somber as the campfire ashes were spread out. Nobody spoke of the meal they had the night before, the meat from the maddened quaggoth which was slain by Sorrow, nor the bones that now littered the edge of camp. Cautiously, the group left their camp and followed Shushar as he lead them toward the darklake, where they believed their time of safe passage in the underdark would begin. As the group traveled there were attempts to build a camaraderie and to inform the others why each of the adventurers found themselves in the underdark. Al’Zane sought artifacts of an ancient dwarven people, Thronduin wished to bring enlightenment to the races in the underdark, Sorrow believed he’d been sent by Helm to slay demons, Rolen sought adventure and treasure, while Argan and Mallor were exploring the underdark to find the source of the distress afflicting their people.
Travel through the underdark is never easy, even for the races that make it their home. For this diverse group of travelers, each day was a perilous march. Several in the group were able to see with the clarity of the infrared spectrum like the drow, while others had varying degrees of dark vision. The humans traveling with the group suffered long stretches in complete darkness. Without the sun the concepts of day and night quickly faded for the group. It was either time to march or time for camp, primarily dictated by their hunger. The quaggoth meat was not enough to last the group for more than a few meals. Early in their travels they chanced upon a stream. In the dim light of faerzress that surround the cavern the waterskins were refilled while nervous glances were exchanged and concerns of when the next potable water might be found.
Another cavern proved to be useful for foraging and many pounds of ripplebark that those familiar with the underdark flora encouraged the group to gather. While the trip was long and dark, each adventurer considered themselves lucky that they did not go hungry or thirsty.
The escapees were fortunate that they did not encounter any of the often feared beasts that roam the underdark. Several close encounters were avoided by the group leveraging the various arcane abilities of it’s members. The “nights”, however, were less welcoming. From the first time setting up camp, the sentry on watch was plagued by distant sounds. For each it was different, some heard screaming while others heard a scratching and tapping. Still unfamiliar with each other, tensions were high during these times as mistrust and suspicion was high. Sarith, the drow whom escaped with the group, warned those taking watch to not follow the sounds they heard, “they will lead only to destruction,” was his warning. Fitful sleep and anxious waiting filled the time in camp and motivated the group to press on to the dark lake.
After several days journey the party entered another of seemingly endless caverns, but this one was occupied by a new sight. Near several boulders were three humanoid creatures standing at attention. After getting a closer look, Al’Zane alerted the group that they looked like at one time they could have been drow, but they seemed to be rotting and had the appearance of fungus. A deep sense of dread washed over the party as each contemplated what to do. Sorrow sought the guidance of Helm, asking if this was the work of a demon. At the edges of his thoughts he heard a name whispered, “Zuggtmoy.” The evil presence was overwhelming to which Argan and Mallor responded with the purity of their gods. As Argan approached one of the rotten drow, he heard it whispering. “The day…of joy…is upon us” it spoke while seeming to be unaware of the presence of the party. Argan called upon his god to rid the world of this evilness and the rotting figure crumbed away.
Shaken, the group continued their journey to reach the dark lake. Shushar assured them, “the dark lake is closer. I am beginning to smell it.” After hours in a maze of tunnels, the group entered a large opening that gave way to a large chasm. Spider web stretched as far as they could see and after only a few moments, two goblins appeared and offered to guide the party across the webs, for a price.
Not wishing the journey to last any longer than it must, the group agreed and were shown the way to cross the spiderweb. Along the way, a small halfling was seen wrapped in the spider’s web, unconscious. Mallor quickly healed the halfling and cut him free. He introduced himself as Vargas and said he was a treasure hunter on his way to Neverlight Grove. He was offered the chance to join the group on their way to the dark lake, which he accepted.
After crossing the spider webs the group reached a fork in the path that Shushar was unsure of the best way to take. “I can smell the dark lake coming from both tunnels,” he told the group only to inform them that he must stop and consider which would be the correct way. Frustrated with the prospect of waiting on Shushar, the group decided to make small expedition parties to search the tunnels. Sorrow, Al’Zane, Thronduin, and Sarith went down one tunnel while Mallor and Vargas explored another.
After about an hour of travel, Sorrow, Al’Zane, Thronduin, and Sarith discovered a cavern filled with bones of all kinds of creatures. A tapping could be heard echoing through the cavern. Al’Zane scouted ahead and discovered a re-animated skeleton in dwarven armor was hammering the rock wall. Using his divine sense, Sorrow was able to identify the location of several more undead creatures in the cavern.
A plan was quickly formed and the group engaged the undead creatures only to discover that several larger skeletal creatures comprised of various creature’s bones mashed together were also present in the cavern. As Sorrow drew back his sword to take the first strike against the skeletal creatures, a blue light emanated from the blade, casting a dancing shadow as the fight began. The battle was difficult, but Sorrow’s blades, Al’Zane’s fists, and Thronduins magic were enough to dispel the cursed power that gave life to the dead.
During the combat, Thronduin drew from the more chaotic arcane lessons he learned as a young elf and launched a fireball into the creatures. As the flame filled the cavern, Al’Zane’s face hardened as he grit his teeth. The usually active dwarf froze while the fire flickered in his eyes, but the rest of him was emotionless. The flames triggered a memory from his past, a time when fire burned out of control by his own hand. Guilt and rage filled him. A part of him fought against that rage. He struggled hard to contain it and, this time, he did. The moment passed quickly and he stumbled towards a nearby boulder. As he felt the cool stone he was able to center himself and regain his composure. The only lasting sign of his internal battle was the few tears that had streaked across his begrimed face.
After they cleared the cavern, they discovered a large river at the far end, which contained several species of fish which the adventurers caught and took back to camp.
Meanwhile at the camp, Mallor and Vargas heard strange sounds from the tunnel nearby where they waited with Shuushar for the exploration parties to return. As they cautiously approached the sounds they saw a Duergar acting erratically, moving himself as though he were swimming through the air. Compelled to action, Mallor spoke to the Duergar and discovered he was suffering from some kind of madness that made the Duergar believe he was a gaseous being. Mallor cast a restorative spell which brought the Duergar back to his senses. He told Mallor his name was Grokdorrn and that he was not aware how long he was under the influence of the madness which took hold of him. He thanked Mallor and told him that, should he find himself in Gracklstugh, to “tell Gorglak of the Stone Guard that you saved the life of Grakdorrn of the Flamekeepers”
Mallor shared the tale of meeting Grakdorrn and of the madness that took hold of him. All who listened could not help but think of the strange sounds they’d heard in the caverns during their journey.