Back in the Yawning Portal, Garrett explains the situation to Amarus and Dorrin, and fetches the ever-keen Father Banks to heal the wizard. Together, they form a plan of action to rescue their friends, resting overnight before putting it into action. Amarus and Banks will attempt a little cunning diplomacy, and Garrett and Dorrin will come in to fetch them if it goes awry.
Disguising himself as the Mage General Karaktakus, Amarus asks to see the Duke, pretending to know that one of their Doomguard has run amok on the estate. The ruse works, the Duke initially pretending to know nothing, but when challenged, letting slip that he has dealings with the Zhengisi and is handing over some of his research to them and also has Talos at his lab, but he quickly becomes suspicious. Amarus and Banks are lured back to his downtown warehouse, where Gillibran claims his potato-faced henchman Dran has the construct awaiting research. Here, as Amarus is forced to slip outside before the spell maintaining his disguise wears off, Gillibran attempts to charm Banks using his sorcery. But the strong-minded cleric fights off the spell, and a fight ensues.
Gillibran initially has the upper hand until Amarus traps him with a well-flung web spell. Dran flees, and Banks reveals a vicious side, firing his crossbow at the helpless sorcerer until he agrees to take them back to his estate and show them where he is keeping Drakar and Talos. Bound and kept at crossbow point, the Duke attempts several more cunning lies, but the heroes are now wise to his guiles and none succeed. They overpower the last guard back at the house, tie him up and proceed back into the mansion. Deep in the hidden lab, they are reunited with the unconscious Drakar and the inactive Talos – Banks heals the mage and Amarus repairs the Doomguard as the rest fight the guard, the acid-spewing Blackspawn raider. They emerge victorious after a hard fight, and even though left unattended, Gillibrand’s bonds have been tied too tight by the dwarven ranger for him to slip free.
The sorcerer is promptly examined thoroughly over what else he knows of the Zhengisi and what it is they have been asking for. The manipulative mage refuses to help anyone but Drakar, who he still claims to be interested in helping. He tells Drakar of his other secret lab, a temple ruin he has converted out in the hills near Firetop, where he can perform more research into Drakar’s bloodline and abilities. He keeps a sample of refined black dragon’s blood there that he has obtained from his draconic ally Darkhorn, a mature female black dragon who lairs not far from the city.
To prove his apparent trustworthiness, he helps the heroes convince the Zhengisi mages who come calling that all is well on the estate, handing over the documents he’s promised them after Amarus has copied them out. In on this deception is Mad Pete, who has finally tracked Drakar down with a deck of cards he ordered, and happily stays on to offer his help as a happy-go-lucky rogue and ‘priest’ of Olidammara. Although they don’t trust Gillibran, they’re willing to leave him alone in his study with one of the mages as Drakar listens outside the door, pretending to be his student, and even heal him of some of his wounds and let him sleep in his own bed before Drakar follows him into the wilderness looking for the secret lab, with Dorrin and Mad Pete tracking at a discreet distance. Gillibran still plays along, even ordering his last house guard to carry on with his usual duties round the house until he can return.
In the meantime, Garrett scours the city for information on the deadly creature that watches his every move – the Vitreous Drinker that Trobriand warned him of. Jaxsen warns him not to go after it, it’s too powerful. Not knowing what kind of creature it may be makes it hard to know where to seek lore on it, and his attempts to find information in the libraries and zoos of the city prove fruitless. Even the temple of Boccob is a dead end – but his luck finally turns with the temple of Heironeus. Here, the Grand Master sternly warns Garrett that no servant of Vecna can be trusted. They will help him, sensing no specific evil in him, but he must first submit to rigorous screening and examination to ensure that he is not ensorcelled or screened by magic, and that he is not a knowing or unknowing trap of the lord of secrets. After all, nobody trusts a tiefling without covering their own back first. Garrett reluctantly agrees to the examination, and admits every detail of his past, how he fled the temple of Vecna in Brice after they tricked him into torturing his own brother to death, and how he knows nothing of why they pursue him so relentlessly.
Convinced by his honesty, the Grandmaster agrees to help against their mutual foe. He sets a team of researchers and scryers to locate the creature, and then slay it, but will not allow Garrett out of the temple barracks. It is safer to keep him under constant guard in their way temple. Garrett chafes at his bonds, knowing the ravens of the Drinker are already circling the temple, and tries to shoot as many as he can out of the sky, perhaps to blind his foe or perhaps to enrage it and draw it to him. But that very night, under cover of stormy darkness, one of his paladin guards reveals itself as another of the shapeshifting Talons. Garrett kills it on the roof of his safehouse, then explains the urgency of a strike against the Drinker to the Grandmaster. Understanding their security to be compromised, the Grandmaster agrees, sending Garrett out as a lure with a covert team of elite paladin guards, while his main force heads to the creature’s lair.
Out in the darkness of the storm, Drakar and Gillibran reach the ruinous temple lab. The Duke describes how he was forced to abandon it after his experiments on the regenerative qualities of Troll blood went disasterously wrong – the place is now a lair for the foul carnivores, and they must tread carefully. They fight their way in past another of the Duke’s gibbering mothers, and then (even knowing he’s letting himself in for trouble) Drakar submits to the Duke’s suggestion of using a magical sacrificial circle to provide a sample of his blood for experimentation. It is of course a trap, and the Duke watches happily as the circle tries to suck Drakar clean of blood, but he breaks free of it and a magical duel ensures. Unable to dodge Drakar’s fireballs, though, Torlion tries to flee under cover of a smoky cloud, but Drakar catches him and blasts him down from behind with flaming rays.
Dorrin and Mad Pete lose the trail to the lab, and it takes them longer to arrive than they hoped – they eventually follow troll tracks to the place, and arrive just as Drakar finishes looting the Duke’s lab (or what remains of it). He has taken papers mentioning a ‘dragon orphanage’, the Dragondown Grotto, where eggs of slain dragons are guarded and hatched, and also revealing his plans of stealing and eating one… They continue searching the temple, discovering a key to a sealed central altar room, in which lies a beautiful suit of armour. But when Dorrin tries to take it, the statue in the room proves to be a mighty Stone Golem – outmatched, they run, leaving the armour behind when the golem chases them out of the temple. It retrieves the armour and retreats to the inner sanctum, and the heroes, already weary, decide to head for home and leave the rest of the temple to another visit. On their way back, they are ambushed by one of the trolls, but a combination of dwarven axework from Dorrin and repeated flasks of acid prove more than enough to easily slay the beast.
Back in Firetop, Garrett waits with his paladin guards for the strike of the Drinker, who he feels certain will move against him. Nor is he disappointed – before long, a hunched form stalks out of the rain and darkness, and waits in the yard outside. The paladins attack, but when the foul undead creature reveals its true appearance – a withered corpse whose blackened skin is covered with hundreds of bloodshot, watery eyes – they are overcome by nausea and are unable to fight effectively. Garrett’s arrows pick off the ravens that circle round it, but the creature effortlessly moves through the paladins, magically whisking itself into the room where Garrett snipes at it. Garrett flings himself out of a window to escape, and the paladins, attempting to hack it apart, barely even succeed in hurting it at all before being cut down by a combination of powerful magical blasts from its eyes, its terrible appearance, its blinding tongue lash and its vampiric abilities. Garrett flees for his life, leaving the elite team dead or comatose behind him.
The Grandmaster is grave at this news – there is only one weapon his temple has that could hurt such a powerfully evil creature, a holy greatsword kept as a relic of a great paladin of old. But there is no warrior currently available to wield such a thing – Garrett is not pure enough of heart, and to risk it in the hands of even his elite paladins could mean losing it to a servant of Vecna. Garrett goes out to panic buy holy water, now guarded at all times by at least two paladins.
When Dorrin returns from the short sojourn in the local wilderness, he feels tired and restless, and keeps thinking of the brown bear he rescued from the troglodytes, Mawg. Wandering lonely through the canyons of the Moonstones, he decides to seek the bear, and his unerring wilderness senses bring him to the giant ursine – trying to lair for the winter in an abandoned watchpost, it has been attacked by a band of bugbears and goblins led by a hobgoblin with arcane powers. Between Dorrin’s axes and the bear’s paws, however, the goblinoids are quickly dispatched, and Dorrin leads Mawg back towards Firetop, where he finds a safer cave for him to sleep in.
He brings him food, and convinces the bear to follow him into town, where he eventually persuades a dwarven smith to forge a set of chain barding for the bear. His plan is to eventually train Mawg as an unconventional mount, and to that end, starts feeding and training the bear during the winter afternoons outside the city.
Garrett, in the meanwhile, searches the sewers for the frost witch Zollor, hearing that she has perhaps infiltrated the city walls. His paladin guards are easily duped into following him, but the drow and her barbarians are not convinced so easily to drop whatever aims they have and aid him against the Drinker. She dismisses him with the threat of violence, and there are too many barbarians with her to argue his case, so he leaves to report her whereabouts to the Grandmaster. But the temple already has its hands full trying to find the Drinker – something is blocking their scrying attempts, and the Grandmaster isn’t able to divert any paladins to chase the drow at the moment.
Garrett turns to less reputable sources of information, paying Jaxsen off to get the location of the Drinker’s lair. Jaxsen is none too keen to help – the Drinker is a powerful foe, and he doesn’t want to be listed as one of its enemies for fear of its retribution. It has eyes everywhere – apparently blind beggars, the paladins it hit with its cataract-causing tongue and the spectral ravens that still follow Garrett across the city. Only for 1000 gold pieces and the promise that Garrett will steal the holy sword relic for the Agents of the Eye gets him the information he seeks – the Drinker is hiding in the clock tower of [[St. Anselm’s]], amongst the warehouses uptown.
Between the resources of the Heironian Temple, a map of the sewers showing a way from said temple to [[St. Anselm’s]] clock tower away from the circling ravens, and the agreement of the Grandmaster to lend Dorrin the holy sword, Garrett feels as prepared to destroy his foe as he can. He and Dorrin also take an enchanted sunrod they can use as an emergency beacon the paladins will follow, and with a final blessing from the Grandmaster, they leave. Even on infiltrating the clock tower, however, the Drinker’s ravens are watching them, and when they finally track it down to the roof, it is waiting for them.
It refuses to explain its actions to Garrett, although it does tell him that the Talons are nothing to do with it, unexpectedly. Whatever master it serves has a darker purpose for the ex-torturer, but not one it chooses to reveal. It warns Garrett not to meddle with it again, and to leave it alone to watch him in peace, but Garrett has had enough of being followed and strikes the sunrod against the tower balcony, summoning the paladins even as Dorrin charges to attack. With a single word, the undead monstrosity strikes the dwarf dead, and its foul appearance is enough to incapacitate Garrett. It lashes him with its tongue, and his eyes cloud with cataracts, and then it vanishes from the rooftop before the paladins arrive. Garrett takes the few moments he has left alone to steal and hide the holy longsword, telling the paladins that the Drinker took it.
Dorrin is prepared for burial back at the temple of Heironeus, where the Grandmaster grimly ejects Garrett from their care. There is nothing more he can do for him – without the sword, there is next to nothing that can even hurt the creature, let alone stop it, so the mere presence of Garrett now makes the temple a target and a threat. Garrett takes his companion’s body to the local mortuary, pausing only to take a lock of hair and some ‘samples’ in the hope that magic may be able to bring his friend back, and then sets off to find a druid who may oblige.
He hears of such a druid from Ellithral at the Yawning Portal – a centaur who leads a tribe near Firetop has such powers, and may be willing to help. Garrett wanders the wilderness seeking the tribe, and eventually finds it, and convinces the centaurs he means them no harm. Their leader F’zan, the druid in question, agrees to help the tiefling if in return he will determine what creature it is that has been eating their livestock and killing their scouts recently.
In a cave at the end of a nearby canyon, Garrett discovers a resting hydra, a serpentine monstrosity with six heads that has crawled up out of a hole leading to some dim underground chasm to nest in an old dragon lair. He reports this to the centaur, who decides that this threat must be ended – nominating a potential heir for the tribe in case he doesn’t return, he sets out with Garrett. Their plan is to use the narrow windings of the cave to their advantage, outmaneuvering the hydra. Indeed, its scaly bulk proves its downfall – although it can heal almost any wound the pair inflict instantly, it cannot dodge the lightning blasts of F’zan or Garrett’s poisoned bow shots, and they eventually trap it with a pincer movement and slowly tear it to quivering shreds.
After looting the lair, they return to the centaur village – but in their absence, disaster has struck. The village is gone, the centaurs either dead or taken. As the druid mourns, Garrett examines the tracks – from what he can determine, slavers from Zengis have struck, enslaving those centaurs who weren’t cut down. Taking a shred from a red robe and a black and red crossbow bolt as proof, he returns towards Firetop, and the centaur accompanies him. Perhaps together, they can convince the authorities of the city not to trust the Zhengisi.