The band of drow led by Quenthel Baenre—Pharaun Mizzrym, Ryld Argith, Jeggred Baenre, Valas Hune, and Faeryl Zauvirr—travel from Menzoberranzan to the city of Ched Nasad in order to determine the city's status and retrieve trade goods belonging to House Baenre. In order to quicken their pace, they travel through Ammarindar, the domain of Kaanyr Vhok, who sends his tanarukks under the leadership of the alu-fiend Aliisza to intercept them. The drow band refuses to meet with Vhok and Aliisza, intrigued, allows them to defeat her minions and continue on to Ched Nasad. Gromph Baenre continues to monitor the group via a communication spell with Pharaun.
When the travelers arrive, Ched Nasad appears to be in a state of chaos. They sneak into the city in order to lay low, but the lower levels of the city are swarming with rabble and apparent refugees constantly mobbing others. The group eventually finds rooms at the Flame and Serpent inn to serve as their base while Pharaun goes out to explore and Quenthel goes to retrieve her goods from the Black Claw Mercantile Company storehouse run by House Zauvirr and House Melarn. Pharaun, Valas and Ryld explore the trade quarter where they witness routine disrespect for the Drow and even a powerless priestess, murdered while crying out for Lolth to save her. The whole city knows of Lolth's silence and no longer regard the Drow as the unquestioned ruling class. When Quenthel arrives, she finds that Faeryl has betrayed her, turning her over to her mother, Matron Mother Ssipriina Zauvirr. Ssipriina has contrived a plot to destroy House Melarn by implicating Matron Mother Drisinil Melarn in theft and using the Clan Xornbane duergar mercenaries to destroy the rest of the house.
Meanwhile, Ssipriina sends Zammzt as an emissary to bring the rest of Quenthel's companions to House Melarn. However, Ssipriina's plot goes awry when the duergar attack prematurely (using firepots that can burn stone, indicating a possible association with Syrzan), and Pharaun, Ryld, and Valas are able to escape. With the help of Danifae Yauntyrr and Halisstra Melarn, the group recovers Quenthel and Jeggred and escape House Melarn just before it falls into the city chasm. While seeking an exit from the city—which is in complete chaos—they dodge duergar and run into a humongous guardian spider summoned by five matron mothers, including Ssipriina. Pharaun and Ryld risk their lives several times on behalf of Danifae, who is injured, despite Quenthel's demands to leave her behind. When Pharaun retrieves their belongings from the inn, he is poisoned but then rescued by Aliisza, who has been keeping an eye on him.
The group is unable to find an exit from the city until they run into Ssipriina, whom they kill, but not before she reveals there is an unused portal in the Dangling Tower. With the help of Q'arlynd Melarn, Halisstra's wizard brother, they reach the Dangling Tower but are forced to fight an iron golem. The ensuing fight and destruction of the tower leaves Q'arlynd dead, but the rest of the group is able to escape through the portal to an unknown destination.
As the city of Ched Nasad destroys itself, Zammzt looks on the chaos he has created.
- Aliisza, alu-fiend and consort of Kaanyr Vhok
- Aunrae Nasadra, most powerful matron mother in Ched Nasad
- Danifae Yauntyrr, battle captive of Halisstra Melarn
- Drisinil Melarn, matron mother of House Melarn
- Faeryl Zauvirr, ambassador of Ched Nasad to Menzoberranzan
- Gromph Baenre, Archmage of Menzoberranzan
- Halisstra Melarn, First Daughter of House Melarn
- Jeggred Baenre, draegloth son of Triel Baenre
- Khorrl Xornbane, duergar mercenary and leader of Clan Xornbane
- Ryld Argith, former weapons master of Melee-Magthere
- Ssipriina Zauvirr, Matron Mother of House Zauvirr
- Valas Hune, Bregan D'aerthe scout
- Zammzt, drow advisor to House Zauvirr