Into the Swamp
After some debate about how to make their next move, the group eventually settled on having Keo cast pass without trace on them so they could sneak past the roadhouse and into the swamp without any risk of being noticed. Once in the swamp, they discovered that the tunnel exit was quite easy to find, as it was only really disguised from the roadhouse side.
They didn’t have long to wait before a band of lizardfolk slipped out of the darkness and headed into the tunnel. Some time later, they re-emerged with treasure-laden packs strapped to their backs. As the lizardfolk went back into the swamp, the heroes followed. Once it became clear that the journey wasn’t going to be a short one, however, they decided to stop for the night. The trail was easy enough to follow, after all, for even when they were having to wade through knee-deep water, there were plenty of obvious trail markers scratched into tree trunks and talismans hanging from tree branches.
Flint set up an alarm down the trail and they settled in for the night. In the morning, they pressed on and, for the next several hours, found themselves having to put up with not just the cold, the mud, and the overgrown weeds but also man-eating giant lizards, gnome-eating giant frogs, and blood-sucking giant insects. Tired and worn out, they were almost caught by surprise when a group of strange snake-men approached out of the fog. Two of the creatures had human bodies with snake heads, while the other three were mostly human, except for a few snake-like features (forked tongues, patches of scales, and so on).
Keo dropped a spike growth in front of them. The three mostly-human creatures spotted the spikes and moved around, while the two snaked-headed men blundered into it. They stopped moving and raised their longbows. Mara moved into axe-throwing range, while Jamna disappeared into the undergrowth. Erevan and Flint took aim at the snake-headed men with bow and spell.
As one of the mostly-human creatures moved into melee range with Mara, it magically compelled her to surrender and proceeded to tie her up with some rope. Before it could lead her away, however, Erevan took it down with a well-placed shot, and Mara quickly regained her senses! Another of the almost humans moved to engage Keo, who shifted into bear form, only to have the creature breathe poison on him and then attempt to charm him as well (but to no avail). Jamna reappeared and stabbed the third almost human to death, then vanished into the swamp again, only to reappear next to the creature attacking Keo and finish it off as well.
Erevan and Flint were able to fell one of the snake-headed creatures, but the other one, seeing it was all alone, escaped into the foggy swamp.
A Voice in the Fog
Some time later, the group stumbled into a makeshift campsite at the edge of the “dry” land. No one appeared to be at home, although several dug-out canoes were resting nearby. Realizing that they’d have to take to the water to continue their journey on the morrow, the group decided to make camp in the lizardfolks’ huts for the night, with Flint once again setting up a magical alarm.
As the sun began to set, the fog billowed and Mara, who was on first watch, started to see massive, clawed footprints appearing in the soggy ground. As the footprints circled the camp, her immediate thought was of the black dragon that lived somewhere in the morass. Flint was woken up by his alarm and came rushing out to see what had triggered it. He instantly recognized the footprints as belonging to a dragon but was rather surprised to find that it was invisible!
The dragon moved in close enough that they could feel its hot breath on their skin. A voice out of the fog – at once deep and nasal – spoke the words that the heroes were dreading: “I am Voaraghamanthar, lord of the mere! Who are you and what are you doing in my swamp?”
This was enough to wake the others, who emerged from their huts to find Mara and Flint talking to nothing. Fortunately, the dragon seemed disinclined to attack. Flint remembered that the dragon was said to strongarm adventurers into delving into swampy ruins in order to retrieve lost treasures for it. As it just so happened, this was exactly what Voaraghamanthar had in mind now.
Remaining invisible, the dragon informed the heroes that he wouldn’t kill them and pickle their bodies in the swamp if they performed two small tasks on his behalf. The first task was the retrieval of a magic ring – a ring of Myrkul to be precise – which he believed to be in the possession of an elf who led the local contingent of the Cult of the Dragon. The cultists had taken over Castle Naerytar, which the dragon pointed out was once home to an all-female academy of stargazers. While the academy was really just a front for a horrid creature known as a penanggalan, they had installed a magical telescope – the farseer of Illusk – in the castle. Voaraghamanthar explained that Rezmir, the black half-dragon wyrmspeaker, had stolen something from him, and so he in retaliation, he wanted the telescope destroyed.
The heroes glanced at each other briefly, realizing that they really had no choice but to accept the dragon’s offer of employment. Pleased, the dragon then informed them that a band of lizardfolk were just then heading in their direction by boat. Among them was one called Snapjaw, who was a loyal servant of the dragon. They could take Snapjaw with them to the castle and give him the ring when they found it. With that, the invisible dragon slipped into the dark waters of the mere and swam away.
A Plan is Hatched
Spooked but with great relief at having survived their encounter with the black dragon, the heroes resumed their rest. After sunset, they heard the splashing of oars. Erevan emerged into the open and hailed the lizardfolk as they drew their boats up onto the shore. He called out in Draconic, asking for the one called Snapjaw to come forward.
At first, the lizardfolk hesitated, fingering their weapons, but when Erevan revealed that Voaraghamanthar had instructed him to speak with Snapjaw, the lizardfolk identified himself. Placating his companions, he stepped forward to speak with the half-elf. The other heroes came out of their huts and helped explain the situation. Snapjaw was overjoyed, believing the heroes to be the saviors he’d been waiting for!
In broken Common, Snapjaw quickly outlined his people’s predicament: allied with the “dragon kneelers” in the castle, but subservient to the hated “flappy feet” after their shaman, Pharblex, had killed the lizardfolk chief. The lizardfolk of the Scaly Death tribe also felt somewhat abandoned by Voaraghamanthar because of his unwillingness to intervene on their behalf. They had been stockpiling weapons and waiting for a chance to rise up and overthrow the bullywugs. Switching back to Draconic, Snapjaw excitedly addressed his companions, managing to win over most of them with his enthusiasm.
Two of Snapjaw’s companions glowered darkly, however, and made to leave. The heroes want to stop them, but Snapjaw assured them they wouldn’t do any harm. They just wished to have no part in what they believed to be a fool’s errand.
Since the lizardfolk were heading back to the roadhouse to collect more treasure, the heroes agreed that Snapjaw’s companions should continue on with that task in the morning, while he guided them across the water to the castle, where they would attempt to meet with his fellows and organize some kind of revolt. Snapjaw pointed out that his people’s fear of Pharblex’s magic was mostly what was keeping them in line at the moment, so perhaps if the heroes were to assassinate him, that would show his people that the time was right to rise up. He informed them that the bullywug shaman spent most of his time during the day in the dank caverns beneath the castle but that he slept in one of the buildings within the castle walls at night.
Death in the Water
In the morning, Snapjaw drew a crude map on the ground, showing the general layout of Castle Naerytar and where the various factions were positioned. The heroes then packed up their things in two of the boats and pushed off into the mere. A few hours later, something large dislodged itself from a nearby island and swam rapidly toward the boats. A pair of massive jaws opened wide, revealing rows of enormous sharp teeth, as a giant crocodile attempted to swallow Flint whole!
The crocodile also lashed out with its tail, knocking Keo into the water. Although the goliath managed to climb back into the boat, the crocodile knocked him back into the water again, so he decided to shift into bear form and swim over to start clawing and biting at the crocodile. Flint bopped the crocodile on the snout with his hammer, while Snapjaw whacked at it with his club and spiked shield. Meanwhile, Erevan and Mara over in the other boat started attacking it from range while Jamna steered.
Unfortunately, the crocodile managed to get Flint in its mouth and then dove down into the water. The other heroes were afraid that they’d just lost their friend, but after a few moments of uncertainty, his limp form bobbed back up to the surface, minus one arm! Keo swam over and, shifting back into his humanoid form, helped pull Flint’s body into the boat where he could be healed up and revived. Much to everyone’s surprise, Flint was quite cold, and it was revealed that he had been keeping an amulet fashioned from the scale of a silver dragon hidden under his clothes and armor, and it was now freezing cold to the touch. It would seem the amulet had saved him somehow!