Meanwhile, back at Morackhold, Tregan is out patrolling (having lost several other patrols in the Duerendelve recently) and comes across a large party of Drow. The two groups fight, and at the end, of all dwarves and drow, only Tregan is left standing. As he returns to alert Morackhold to a growing force of drow in the Duerendelve, he comes across a huge crystalline wall. The wall is slightly curved. If it were to extend as a complete sphere, he’d estimate that it would cover most of the mountain.
Athelia and another Shardmind arrive and tell him that Morack mountain has been sequestered, by forces unknown, and that his presence is needed elsewhere. Confronted with an impassible barrier, the prospect of wandering aimlessly in the Duerendelve until starvation takes him is looking less attractive than going with the strange duo.
The larger of the two shardminds, a hulking masculine form, gestures intricately in the air for a few minutes, and a portal opens. They step through it and find themselves in what is obviously some sort of arcane laboratory. The larger shardmind knows where he’s going, and so Athelia and Tregan follow him down through the tower and out into a village that lies at the base of the tower. It’s night in this part of the world. One of the houses is on fire, and standing in the doorway is Grimnar. Tregan pulls out his crag hammer and advances on the dwarf who betrayed his trust, but the erstwhile Clan leader of Morackhold steps back holding his nose and shaking his head. Baern steps out after him, pulling back his fist.
“Heh. Braces of Arcane Might, cousin? I thought I recognized the design. Nice whallop.”
“Tregan?” Baern calls over his shoulder.
With all the curious happenings over the last few weeks, the appearance of Athelia and Tregan here on the other side of the world is barely questioned. Baern quickly fills the Warden in on recent events and their decision to aid Grimnar in completing his original plan .. despite their misgivings that they could all be patsies for Galendin.
Desiring to know more about what the Wizard in the tower had suspected of a Far Realm invasion before continuing to the Tether, they search for the town Elders. The first is already dead, and the second is mind-blanked – half his brain has been eaten.
In the second elders’ house, they find a tunnel dug into the cellar, and start down it. It twists and turns and they come across a couple of small chambers wherein they stumble on some Mind Flayer guards, who attack.
They obliterate the guards, but reconsider continuing into the underdark. Grimnar urges them to concentrate on the plan – they must disrupt the last two tethers within the next 3 days or so for everything to work. The more time they spend here, the less time they have for the next tether.
They return and Speak With Dead on the first Elder. He tells them at least a couple of dozen Mindflayers came down from the Wizards tower a few days ago and laid waste to the town – whomever they could not enslave they killed and ate their brains. They left a rear guard and used many townsfolk to help dig the tunnel under the house, while the majority of the Illithids went up the mountain.
The party discovers some burned papers in the fireplace of the second house and uses a ritual to make them whole again. The papers were the notes the Wizard made about the Far Realm invasion he had predicted, too casually disposed of by the Illithids. Properly studying the notes would require time they don’t have, but a cursory glance at his calculations (and the presence of the Mind Flayers) lends credence to his theory. The notes show that his celestial observations were quite detailed. It’s possible that in-depth study would reveal more about the actual course of Ardanthor through the Astral Sea. Baern curses the pace at which things are progressing, and yearns for his quiet study in Morack’s library.
Grimnar describes the tether to them. It takes the form of a lake filled from an underground stream created from a portal to a source of Elemental Water — a strong tether to the Elemental Chaos. He needs only to touch the water connected to this source to enact this ritual, so he would be able to do this from the lakes edge.
Baern suggests some preparation before continuing, and enacts the Traveler’s Camouflage, and Water’s Gift rituals to aid their exploration of the area.
They mount their Phantom Steeds and fly up the side of the mountain, as cautiously as their haste will allow, so as to avoid discovery by any more Mind Flayers. Nestled half way up the side of the mountain is the shallow bowl of a lake.
But the lake is dry.
As they discuss how to proceed, from the center of the lake, where there is still some mud, an alien organic orifice opens up – like a tentacled flower opening to the moon. Rising from the beneath the lake bed are several mind flayers. They stand upon a levitating disk fashioned from a dark blue crystal. The Illithids step down from the platform onto the dry lake bed and walk down the mountain side away from the village without detecting the camouflaged group.
The disk retreats into the ground, the orifice closing over it again.
Baern recognizes this as a tube transport that the mind flayers sometimes build to travel quickly to the surface.
The group quickly discounts traveling down the tube, without any knowledge of what might be waiting at the end of it. Instead they enter the grotto that was the lakes source, and slip and slide through the tunnel back down through the fissures that carried the elemental water to the surface. After some scrapes, they come to a place where a sickly green glow suffuses the cavern before them.
Baern sends his invisible Book Imp ahead of them to scout. The Imp returns with dire news. The elemental Water source has been capped with some kind of green mucus membrane that has vastly slowed the pools output, and worse, appears to be corrupting it’s pure elemental energy into a feed source for an Illithid Spawning pool. The area around the portal is filled with the “tadpole” larval stage of the Mind Flayers.
Worse yet, the spawning area is well guarded, not merely by Mind Flayers, but also several thralls and some other creatures from the Far Realm he recognizes as Kaorti – originally humanoid explorers of the Far Realm who have long adapted to the plane of madness.
Baern concentrates on the area, stretching his sensitivity to arcane energies outwards. Apart from the elemental water source in the center of the pool, he detects another strong source of arcane power further into the cavern.