Our adventurers woke up after their rest still trapped in the depths of the Underdark. They had just defeated the frightening Basilisk that had apparently petrified both Duergar and Drow in the underground fortress. Our heroes, however, had to continue on their journey towards the Mountain, and had no time to investigate the history of the Dwarven Stronghold.
They left the Basilisk’s lair into an empty cavern with a solitary bridge stretching endlessly into blackness. There were small specks of light in the distance at the cavern’s edges, but it was impossible to get a sense of how far away they were. Already hardened by their escapades in the Underdark, the heroes went into the blackness unafraid of what they would find.
To their shock and awe, the cavern was much, much larger than they first anticipated. After walking for a quarter hour with no end in sight, Oakson conjured his Great Eagles to explore the caverns depths. After an hour of searching both high and low they found no end in sight—though they did discover other bridges both above and below the adventurers, heading in different directions. Feeling somewhat smaller, the heroes continued across the bridge. Their journey was relatively uneventful, aside from some acid-breathing winged monstrosities that tried taking them by surprise on the bridge.
After some time, they eventually saw a speck of light on where they imagined the horizon would be. That speck grew and grew as they continued onward: First appearing like a torch in the distance, then a lantern, next a flaming sphere, and after another 30 minutes of traveling they saw that it was an enormous city bathed in light, still quite some ways off. It did not look like the pillar-city of the Drow they encountered the previous day. It was more like a giant castle or fortress, with similar archetecture to the fortress they recently left. The light of the city slightly illuminated the world around them, finally allowing the adventurers to see how vast the surrounding cavern truly was. They bridge they had been trudging along for (what seemed like) hours was merely one bridge of several spanning across the cavern.
The adventurers shortly arrived at the base of the city, which was built on what could be described as none other than an enormous underground mountain. The entire city glowed, seemingly from within. The gates at the end of the bridge were large and imposing. There was no other way to approach the city other than the narrow bridge. The gates themselves were slightly ajar, and three figures dressed head-to-toe in menacing plate mail stepped through. They were all of different ages, and all had ashy gray skin and bald heads.
The youngest of the dwarves, with no beard on his chin, immediately recognized the cloak of the Drow on Maelokh’s shoulders and called the party to halt, telling the “Elf scum” to drow to his knees with his hands in the air. Maelokh didn’t take too kindly to this verbal assault, and stoically stood his ground. Tension was high between the two trios, but the heroes were eventually able to convince the Duergar guards that they meant no harm, and had even cleansed the Dwarven fortress behind them of the Basilisk threat, giving them the translating Dwarf bust as a token of good will.
The guards clearly did not take too kindly to the travelers, but the middle-aged Dwarf (Bhalmir Gravelmaster), wielding a heavily modified elven rapier, convinced his companions that even if the trespassers were merely treasure hunters they still could provide some use to their King. Consequently, Gravelmaster and his companions led the adventurers into the Dwarven city of Ashkabaz.
Enjoying the nearly-forgotten taste of civilization, the adventurers made the most of the Dwarven alchemists and blacksmiths before the envoys returned and led them to the King’s Palace near the heart of the mountain. The entrance to the palace was heavily guarded, with iron-clad, hammer-wielding dwarves lining the staircase and archways leading to its front gates. Inside, they were led through a maze of tunnels and hallways past countless rooms and antechambers until eventually coming to a grand doorway.
“Now, ye listen here. This is Morgraan, Lord of the Fireforge. You bow before him. Do you understand? Speak only when spoken to. You are only here because he allows it.”
The Dwarves opened the door, revealing a large chamber of black, shining stone. Despite its blackness, the room gleans brilliantly, almost like a jewel or a mirror. There were more armored dwarves flanking a pathway leading to a great throne. Molten lava flowed like waterfalls around the room through decorative pipes and valves in the ceiling and walls, through carved holes in the ground, dropping deep into the mountain. Beneath the floor the adventurers could hear rumbling and roaring, almost as if the mountain itself was groaning. A few moments revealed, however, that it was the sound of the great forge and its army of blacksmiths, working away under the mountain.
At the end of the pathway stood a large throne, easily four times the size of the dwarf sitting upon it. Morgraan, king of the Fireforge, was similarly stout and bald like his brethren. Unlike them, his scalp was bleached ghostly white. Under his white scalp sat large, pale purple eyes and a long crooked nose.
After inquiring why the adventurers chose the enter his Kingdom, Morgraan sat silently, listening to the tale they carefully shared and their simple desire to return to the surface world.
“There is a way to the sunlit-lands. An old path, beyond a great door. The door is hidden and there is but one key . . . I wear it close, to remind me that our people chose to come down to these lands. And despite centuries of captivity and slavery, it has since been our choice to remain. These underlands are ours. We do not wish to leave. We wish to keep outsiders . . . out.”
After further persuasion and diplomacy from both ends, Morgraan proposed that perhaps both parties could help each other:
“Hmmm…I do believe I see a solution forming in my mind. There is one way we can help each other. There have been rumors of….a creature….beneath our kingdom. The rumors are true, though I have done my best to subdue them. There is an ancient creature. Perhaps a kind you have heard of? I believe in the common tongue they are called ‘Mind Flayers.’ Here they are known as the Ilithids. They have terrorized and enslaved our people long enough, and now they dare come once again upon our borders. We will claim these lands for our own, and they shall not stop us!”
“If you wish to freely leave these lands, then you must traverse beneath the fireforge and eliminate this threat. Though I warn you….even the Duergar haven’t explored those caves for centuries, until just recently. We can point you in the right direction, but beyond that….there’s no telling what terrors or traps you might….dig up."
Having agreed to the King’s demands, Oakson, Maelokh, and Thurgall spent several hours resting within the Duergan stronghold. Soon after, a small group of Dwarves, including two of the ones they initially met, escorted them through the palace directly into the caverns of the Fireforge. The entire Dwarven city was built on the great mines of Ashkabaz, where stones and precious metals are unearthed and refined for the Duergar’s purposes. The mines were clearly enormous, even though the party only caught small glimpses of them. The caverns were deafeningly loud from the clangs of hammer and the crushing of rocks, and blisteringly hot, even through the thick stone walls.
The Dwarves use a large system of pulleys and platforms to transport themselves and their materials through the great forge. The dwarves escorted the adventurers to one such platform which dropped into an incredibly deep, narrow passage, and send the adventurers on their way.
“I hope you aren’t thinking of running after we drop you off. There’s no paths to the surface down there. It just goes ever deeper, down, and down, into the earth.” Oh, and be careful. They say Mindflayers eat brains."
Having departed from the lift, a familiar toxic fume assaulted the adventurer’s olfactory senses. The caves and tunnels were covered in stalagmites and stalagtizes, and green ooze was covering the ground in every direction, immediately reminding the party of their adventure a few days prior. Wandering through the tunnels, they came across a large damn room, with a wide and straight streak of blood staining the cavern’s floor towards a large stalagmite in it’s middle. Immediately rushing forward to investigate the blood and stone, Maelokh was caught off guard and attacked by the hidden tentacles of an enormous creature disguised and hanging from the cavern’s ceiling. The foray that followed was vicious and nearly deadly. Oakson transformed into a giant constrictor snake and grappled the monstrosity from above, while many tentacles struck out like ropes on the adventurers, dragging them towards the ceiling and the creatures terrifying jaws. At some point during the action, Maelokh was dropped and fell to the cavern’s floor, lifeless. Dodging the tentacles from above, a grotesque troll scurried out from a nearby tunnel and began dragging the unconscious Maelokh to his hovel. Leaving Oakson and his eagles to tackle the Roper, Thurgall ran to save his new comrade, knowing that only his flames could kill the Troll.
Even though both beasts were defeated, the adventurers knew that they could stop long to rest and heal their wounds, and they continued down through the winding tunnels. To their surprise, the natural caves around them abruptly ended with a man-made door set in carved stone. Opening the door revealed a larger room with an altar on one end and scraps of tapestry hanging from the far wall. Sending the snake in first proved a wise decision, for the floor swung open beneath Oakson’s feet, revealing a shallow pit filled with gray, sentient ooze, which the adventurers quickly defeated by keeping their distance and not letting it’s acid touch disintegrate their weapons and armor. The few remains of tapestry at the end of the wall depicted images of people standing in a cavern not unlike this one. Bodies were being thrown into a pit, with cloaked figures standing in a circle, kneeling at the pits edge, toward the altar.
The path to their right continued into an enclosed room covered in ancient runes and carvings, which seem to have largely eroded away—though the adventurers still felt uneasy as they looked upon them. Besides these runes, the room was empty. The left path continued into another medium-sized room . . . With a large, jagged spiral carved into the wall! The symbol of Asmodeus himsef!! As the adventurers approache the wall they began to hear strange whispers in their head, though they did recognize the language or discern where it was coming from.
Discerning that a hidden room lay beyond the carving, the adventurers broke through the wall, revealing what appeared to be an ancient ritual site—a shrine to Asmodeus. The room was some sort of sanctuary, almost like a chapel. Stone pews were orderly laid out in the ground, and at the front of the room lay another altar. The entire wall beyond the altar was covered in detailed, ornate art and writing. Unlike the previous chambers, this room appeared entirely untouched, and was very, very old. In the center of the art was a vast diagram, appearing like an upside-down cone.
The cone is divded into nine layers, each very different, and each showing images of horrific fiends and creatures, with tortured and mortified souls of humans wandering among them. You recognize some of the beings presented: You see Lolth, the Spider Queen of the Drow. Gruumesh, the evil god of the orcs. Tiamat, the evil goddess of greed and envy, patron of the Chromatic Dragons. Torog, the god of the Underdark, patron of jailors and torturers. Vecna, the demon of the undead and necromacy. Zehir, the god of darkness and poison. Bane, the gobling god of war and conquest . . . Among many others. You even see Laduguer, the Duergar’s god that you recognize from the city, among the many faces within Baator.
At the bottom of the cone is a figure you recognize from the artwork in Fallreach. It is Asmodeus himself, sitting calmly, holding a jeweled scepter. He looks almost like he is plotting. To the right of this diagram is a series of scenes. It depicts the battles for power and control within Baator, but they culminate in an image of the gods and dieties mentioned earlier, circling around Asmodeus, bowing. In the following images they are marching at his command through Baator and towards the earth—towards Ellysia, ready to srike the great cities of men. After that are scenes of humans and eviles running and being tortured and captured. Shrines and chapels are being destroyed, and everything is in flames.
The final scene shows the world cast in darkness. A shrine to Pelor stands destroyed in the background. In the foreground stands Asmodeus, with all of the earth in his domain…but he is not looking at them. He has his eyes set upwards, towards the heavens themselves.
Other than these images, the room stood empty.
Exiting the shrine, the whispers in the adventurers head simply grew loud. Though they could not be understood, each of the travelers felt like they were being accused and belittled. Traveling just slightly further revealed another door, behind which stood a very large camber, with other tunnels leading into it from above, over ledges on the edges of the room. At the far end of the room was a crack in the wall of the cavern—almost as if it was the focal point of the entire chamber.
Moments pass, and as the adventurers begin examining the crack in the wall a sudden flash fills the room and the Mind Flayer stands menacing before them! This Mind Flayer, like all Illithids, possessed powerful psionic powers that enable them to control the minds of creatures such as troglodytes, grimlocks, quaggoths, and ogres. Mind Flayers subsist on the brains of humanoids. The brains provide enzymes, hormones, and psychic energy necessary for their survival, experiencing euphoria as they devour it.
The Illithid attacked the adventurers with its powerful psionic blasts, and used its tentacles to grapple the adventurers (namely Maelokh) in its clutch. Thankfully, they were able to cut it down before the Mind Flayer was able to extract any half-elf brains. Though the Mind Flayer lay dead before them, the action was not complete. Crossbow bolts rained from above, revealing the host of dwarves that had followed them through the chambers, expecting to finish the job after the aberration was defeated! The Mind Flayer, however, was not finished yet, and laughter and blackness filled the room as its body raised from the ground, greater and larger than before! It let out a host of magical attacks, and the crack on the far end of the wall suddenly began to open, revealing the ethereal void between worlds. The Veil was breaking! Meanwhile, the landscape around them began to change, revealing legions of demons, fiends, and imps laughing and watching the skirmish. The Duergar, vulnerable to the Mind Flayers control, focused their attacks on the adventurers. The Gods, however, must have held our heroes in their favor, for at the end of the battle they stood victorious, though gravely injured. The bodies of the Duergar and the Mind Flayer lay lifeless before them, and the abysmal terrain around them returned to normal.
But why was the Shrine of Asmodeus deep in these cavernous depths? Does his devilish grasp reach deep into the Underdark as well? Are the Duergar involved? And most importantly—if the Duergar have turned on them, how will our heroes ever escape the caves and reach the surface world?