The Journal of Micar’eyl Auvrymtor: Gauntlgrym
When I said we arrived at the gates of Gauntlgrym, I might perhaps have been exaggerating a little. What I meant is that the river of flame deposits us in a great cavern containing the mithril gates of Gauntlgrym, which we see gleaming in the distance.
There is more light than you generally find in the Underdark, sourced from the flame river behind us, from volcanic lava flows far in the distance, and gleaming crystal formations that I suspect are not entirely natural. Enough light to see into the distant reaches of the cave, far beyond where my darkvision could gaze. The aforementioned mithril doors tower hundreds of feet high in a far wall, I swear at least a quarter of a mile away. The center of the cavern is dominated by a large lake, no doubt acting as a heat sink for the fire and lava and preventing this cavern from becoming an oven.
Valtha reverently recites an old dwarf poem: “Silver halls and mithril doors, stone walls to seal the cavern.” She tells us the gates were enchanted to keep them hidden and bar enemies. History says it fell only by treachery, some nameless fool inside frightened or bribed into allowing entrance to the orc horde that destroyed it. Orc hordes — is there anything they can’t ruin?
Valtha is visibly excited and more talkative than is normal, clearly eager at being so close to the completion of her mission. When we ask what she knows of the layout of the city, she talks about an Iron Tabernacle, home to many shrines to Moradin and his vassal gods. Beyond it are city streets and buildings where the Delzoun dwarves once lived, and beyond that are the mines from which they extracted mithril and iron and the Great Forge that supposedly created magical weapons as easily as mundane forges make horseshoes and knives. A forge we now know to be connected to the bound Maegera the Inferno, primordial of fire.
But the forge was only one of Gauntlgrym’s treasures. Please allow me to wax historical, combining what Valtha tells us and some things I already knew. The original Northkingdom of Delzoun lay under the Silver Marches. This was in the time of the human Netherese empire, and they gained much of their wealth trading the products of Underdark mines with the archmagi above. The story is that the dwarves were forced to abandon their original kingdom and flee, leading to the founding of Gauntlgrym as a great refuge deliberately hidden from the world. I suspect that is compressing the historical narrative a bit, and at least the mines of Gauntlgrym must have been opened during the time of the original kingdom.
The Delzoun are known throughout the Northdark primarily for the subterranean highways and roads they left behind. Some of them connect to Gauntlgrym, though the passes were carefully concealed so as not invite invasion from people like … well, like my people.
Anyway, the secret to Gauntlgrym’s construction is that the human Netherese mages (before their fall) and the Illiyanbruen elves (before their retreat) also helped build it. It was a cooperation between those three races, each bringing their own talents, that led to the greatest city the Shield Dwarves ever built and the reason that they have never been able to duplicate it since. But for all that humans and elves contributed, at its core this is a dwarven city, with its enchantments tied to the bloodline of the Delzoun dwarves and them alone. Valtha tells me that even other dwarves whose connection to the old Delzoun families are too weak will be denied.
Cefrey has a Gauntlgrym story to tell, too. Apparently humans who lived in Gauntlgrym fled the fall of the city and spent a time roaming through the Underdark, during which time they were infected with lycanthropy. When they emerged onto the surface they were adopted by the Uthgardt Gray Wolf tribe. The tribe’s patron helped them adapt to their curse, but also spread it to the entire tribe, creating the band of lycanthropic barbarians we know and love (to kill) today. The songs and stories I know suggest that probably happened during an attempt to resettle Gauntlgrym after its initial fall, as lycanthropes were involved in the destruction of the resettlement effort. Again, compressing of the historical narrative isn’t too surprising.
As we proceed through the cavern, we see the remnants of the battle with the orc horde that originally smashed Gauntlgrym. There are bones everywhere. As we rest for a while, I ask Valtha what our objective is. What are we trying to accomplish? Valtha says we should explore the city and make sure it’s safe for the dwarven expedition, or at least that we properly understand its dangers, then leave and find as safe a path as possible back to territory we know. Hopefully we can stake out some sort of beachhead area that they can use to fully retake the city from whomever or whatever holds it now.
We come to a giant stalagmite carved into a fortress. There are bones indicating a particularly fierce point in the battle. As we go over a bridge, I get grabbed by some tentacles from a roper concealed as another stalagmite in the water. Then a bunch of haggard brutes jump out, led by a tiefling. They have brand of Asmodeus. After a fierce battle, we slay them all.
We look in the filthy redoubt and realize they have been living in here for a long time. There’s a little altar to Asmodeus and signs of long term occupation. Someone finds a diary tucked away that apparently belonged to the tiefling leader. The later entries are nothing but mad rantings, but it starts with dates from 20 years ago (ten years after the eruption). They came here with Valindra Shadowmantle and were left behind. The first six years chronicle their attempts to find a way out through the tunnels and desperate battles with Underdark creatures (including a few encounters with drow). After years of failure they convinced themselves they were here to guard the gates for Asmodeus. They do have a rack of trophies in the corner, evidently from prior explorers that they kept from the gates for the Lord of Sin.
Among the trophies I see a sigil of House Xorlarrin, reminding me that I should warn everybody about them more explicitly. So I tell everybody about Xorlarrin, who as far as my connections tell me is still one of the eight noble houses of Menzoberranzan (though i can’t be bothered to recall their current ranking and indeed that fact is pleasingly irrelevant to my life now). I tell them about how they destroyed my house — well, I summarize, anyway. These friends of mine have no interest or context for the two years of back-and-forth in a not-quite-open war, the slow grinding down of our resources and sacrifice of our slaves and males to hold them off another day, until the day for the assault when my mother killed herself in shame. Killed herself knowing that Lloth has no mercy for losers but hoping that her final act of spite against the enemy might buy her some sort of small favor in the Demonweb Pits. Nor is it useful to report that I was recruited by the same Bregan D’aerthe mercenaries who were hired by Xorlarrin to help wipe out House Auvrymtor, the same offer that my cousins refused and ended in their deaths.
The Bregan Da’erthe do things differently. They didn’t demand that I kill those who refused to turn as a sign of my new loyalty. I appreciate that. It was my first evidence that Jarlaxle may be a bad man by many standards, but he is far from the frothing madness of most of my Lloth-maddened race. Selûne have mercy on us all, even those who never see the moon.
Oh, uh, where was I? Yeah, I tell everybody is that House Xorlarrin is good at magic and they’ve been poking around here.
I scout ahead to the doors looking for more ambushers, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone else around. So we all head up to the gates and have a look. I worry at first that opening the gates will be a signal to everyone in the city that trespassers have arrived, but after wracking our brains for a few minutes we can’t think of any other way inside. I suppose if it were that easy, there would be little point in having doors.
Cefrey has to have her try at opening the gates, but she strains her muscles and they don’t so much as quiver. For Valtha it is a different matter, however, and they open easily at her touch. Easily and soundlessly, these massive gates moving like they’re gliding on ice and no more weighty than a house door. I begin to think I was over-worried. If no one is looking at the gates as we happen to open them—
Then a squad of warriors from House Xorlarrin led by one of their mage commanders rush the gate. Ah well, oops. Looks like their stealth was better than my scouting. They might have done us a lot of damage, but luckily they seem far more interested in rushing past us and into the city. We don’t let them do that. One of their fighters and the mage-commander soon die, and Valtha sensibly pulls the gate closed behind us before the others can get inside.
That leaves one still alive and inside the gates with us, and he attempts to flee into the city. Cefrey immediately chases after him. Fortunately there is light in here as well. She manages to tackle and capture him before he can disappear from sight. We take our prisoner to what must be some kind of old customs inspection room near the gate and work out what to do next.
A search of the mage reveals he has all the reagents and scrolls necessary to set up a teleportation circle, and Valtha and I realize what is up. Teleportation is difficult in the Underdark because of faerzress, and the radiation around Gauntlgrym is especially (and probably artificially) strong in stopping space magic. If Xorlarrin could set up a teleportation circle, though, that would allow them to set up a locked arrival point that they could use to bring inside as many people as they want. First they have to get past the gates, though. No wonder they didn’t care about hurting us, just getting past us.
I introduce myself to our prisoner and learn his name is Guldor. Our conversation after that is a little… I’ve been with the Bregan D’Aerthe for many years now and dealing with surface folk almost as long. It’s a shock having to deal once more with a drow who hasn’t, who hasn’t had a chance to look past the blend of lies and half-truths that the priestesses of Lloth feed us our entire lives. I mean, I know now that the surface races aren’t all genocidal monsters who chased us into the Underdark long ago and still yearn to take away what small territory we have in the least desirable land in the world, but it took me a while figure that out, to have it really sink in how much crap I was fed.
Guldor asks me about the armies of elves who live to murder drow and I recall that oh yeah, that was a thing I used to believe, wasn’t it? Well, I mean, not to let surface elves off the hook because screw those guys (the Illiyanbruen are as much fae as elf by now) but they are at least as scared of us as we are of them.
So I offer Guldor the same path to salvation I was once given: I recruit him to the Bregan D’aerthe. The recruitment pitch just pours out of me. His house will think him dead. Why not let them be right? I can’t even be mad at him as a soldier of House Xorlarrin. He’s just a poor, dumb male of the lower ranks, little better than a sword in the hands of their matron mother and whatever archmage male she allows the illusion of power. It takes a little bit of back-and-forth, but soon he agrees to sign up.
So we ask Guldor if Xorlarrin has any intelligence in what’s going on in Gauntlgrym. He says they believe an illithid colony has tunnels that go up into Gauntlgrym, and the main Xorlarrin base has been trying to take control of those tunnels from the mind flayers. They had some people watching the doors, and the crazed Ashmadai guarding the doors, just in case. Every once in a while some explorers show up and try to open the gates and fail. When we succeeded they were honestly shocked and gathered themselves to charge. Since we left a few on the other side of the wall, Guldor guesses their orders will be to step up patrols and send more people so that if anyone comes out they’re ready to try again in greater numbers — which we take to mean we’ll need to find some other way out.
The other tidbit he offers is that there have also been duergar in the area who may or may not be getting into Gauntlgrym by some other paths.
We all talk it over, and I put forth an interesting idea. Here Valtha and I have all the fixings for a teleportation circle, courtesy of our dead mage. It’s a great plan — why don’t we use it? We can set up the circle ourselves, change the sigils so only we know the code to it, then after we escape the city we can set up the other end of the circle elsewhere, maybe in Neverwinter itself, maybe in that old Delzoun outpost beneath the River District where we slew the volcano dragon Koravakarios, and bring in the dwarves that way.
That brings us back to the “escape the city” part of the plan. Going through both the illithids and the House Xorlarrin expedition, and ending up pretty deep in the Underdark, doesn’t sound like the best idea.
We continue on exploring while we consider. At the end of the great hall is a large round chamber with a throne. The dwarven runes say that only a king of Delzoun blood can sit upon the throne. It is definitely magical according to Valtha. Her family legends say that her ancestor Indrek (the skeleton she has following everywhere) was descended from the rulers of Gauntlgrym, so Valtha chances it and sits on the throne.
She tells us that on the throne she is connected to the entire city and aware of all within it. There is a colony of duergar serving Asmodeus and mining hellthorn, the drow are trying to get in but have not succeeded, and the wards binding Maegera are weakening. He will escape if something is not done.
She knows the way to the Iron Tabernacle, and from there we can go to the Great Forge. There are water and fire elementals in the forge, but it is not too dangerous. The duergar in the mines are much more dangerous. They are working their slaves to death mining hellthorn. The illithid colony has fallen under the sway of the Abolethic Sovereignty and are sending plaguechanged monsters up into Gauntlgrym.
By the silver light of the moon, the Abolethic Sovereignty again! Seems like we can’t get away from those bozos.
Valtha looks deeper at the failing wards. In the past when Gauntlgrym was created, mages from the city of Illusk proposed to build the Host Tower, which would channel the ocean from the Sea of Swords into Gauntlgrym, and by that power open portals to the Elemental Plane of Water itself to bind Maegera. One of the foci in Gauntlgrym are a series of bowls that keep water elementals bound. One of the bowls was destroyed in the eruption, and since then magical pressure has been building.
Okay, yeah that is bad news for a number of reasons. For one, we know the lich Valindra is holding the Host Tower. If it’s key to binding Maegera, that is bad news. For another, Maegera is close to escaping. That is double bad news. And third, the broken bowl isn’t just a bowl we can swap out for a new one. It’s worked out of the very stone of the mountain itself, which makes replacing it … well, let’s be optimistic and just call it “problematic.”
We elect to explore the Iron Tabernacle first. Automatic carts still travel the rails, and there are big sweeping arches and temples everywhere. We can see how much of the mithril and gems have been chipped out by robbers and defilers, especially in the temples. One temple of Dumathoin has been smashed up, with the symbol of Asmodeus smeared over it. Valtha insists on taking the time to clean it up. There are carvings in the walls and we head down into the tombs.
Duergar warriors riding giant tarantulas drop down from the ceiling. We defeat them. It is so satisfying to kill spiders, I swear! The tombs are pretty well kept. We see the scary dwarven ghosts standing guard over them, but they seem to have a pretty good rapport with Valtha and let us be. I don’t imagine they were quite so amicable with the duergar. Many of the tombs have dwarven descriptions that declare their lineage, and Seipora gets all excited about how she could use this information to reconstruct a map of Delzoun society. We take a long rest from our battles, but we still have to drag her away to check out the forge.
We see a fire elemental fighting its water elemental enemies. Unfortunately the water elementals see us as little more than fleshy water-bags who’ve come to help them, and we have to fight them both. With a little effort we are able to stay out of the path of other elementals in the area and check out the forge and its seals. Valtha is able to find the broken bowl.
Seipora says she has seen something like this before. It reminds her of the famous Neverwintan waterclocks she named her newspaper after. We estimate that the magic system is stressed to the breaking point. Lots of people vying to control the primordial are pumping power into the system: the Thayans, the aboleths, the Fires Below, they each had their own plans for Maegera and what his release would mean for them, and though we’ve dealt each of them serious blows in turn, their efforts have left a mark. Things are getting dire here. It could be less than a year before it all breaks down. We discuss if there’s a way to release the pressure, but there’s no obvious safe solution.
Seipora has an idea that we should release information about the situation to Faerûn at large and let the assembled sages of the world have a crack at the solution. I kind of like the idea, but Rodrik, Cefrey, and Valtha are much colder it it. They’re worried the bad guys would find a way to use the information to bad ends. I personally think that most bad guys don’t want Maegera released, either. Anyway, we table the discussion until we are actually able to escape.
We also take a look at the forge itself. It still looks operational after all this time, and Valtha says it would still be possible to use it to produce magic weapons. An interesting idea, though I don’t know if we have the time to be fooling around with that right now. We take another rest and consider our next move.