To the Serpent Hills

Waterdeep
As the heroes settled back into the safehouse in the North Ward, Leosin told them they’d have a few days to kill while the various members of the Council Quiet could get organized for a formal debriefing. During that time, Flint used his magic to identify the properties of both the magic sword and the dragon mask they’d salvaged from Rezmir’s ashes. Both items were extremely powerful, and no one in the party felt particularly comfortable handling them, let alone attuning to them. They all agreed to hand them over to Lady Laeral.

On the way to the meeting, Keo spotted a cloaked figure watching them from some distance ahead. When the figure spotted him looking in his direction, it turned and pushed off into the crowd. Keo caught a glimpse of a fiendish tail swishing out from under the cloak. His thoughts turned immediately to Barakis, the tiefling cultist that had tried to murder him several times during the caravan journey. Signalling to his companions, Keo followed the tiefling all the way down the city’s main thoroughfare and into a side court known as Virgin’s Square.

Here, amidst a crowded night market, the heroes discovered that the figure was indeed Barakis! Keo also spotted Umara, the cultist guard who’d accused him of murdering one of her companions, lurking nearby, pretending to examine a merchant’s wares while keeping an eye on the party.

Barakis demanded that the heroes give him the maks they’d stolen from Rezmir. If they refused, everyone in the square would die. The heroes flatly refused. A fight ensued. Barakis ordered his men, dispersed among the crowd, to start their slaughter. In the end, five cultists and twenty innocent bystanders lay dead. Flint had inadvertently set fire to a number of stalls, and Barakis had managed to escape in the confusion. Though the city guards detained the heroes for questioning, word of the attack quickly reached Leosin’s ears and he was able to arrange their release.

When the heroes finally reached the Yawning Portal Inn, the faction leaders were all eager to learn more about the attack. Everyone agreed that the mask seemed particularly important and that it should be kept hidden away somewhere. If the heroes kept it, as Roscoe desired, the cultists would be constantly attacking them in order to get it back. In the end, Roscoe reluctantly agreed to go along with the rest of the party’s wishes and agreed to hand it over to Lady Laeral for safekeeping. Laeral also offered to take the sentient sword off their hands in exchange for some other magic items.

The heroes then gave a full report on their activities from the Mere of Dead Men through to Skyreach Castle. The leaders were particularly impressed that the party had not only befriended a cloud giant but had also bested an adult white dragon!

Leosin reported that the Harpers’ interrogation of Azbara Jos had not been particularly fruitful, unfortunately, although they had been able to get him to confirm that Rath Modar was the leader of his splinter sect, known as the Thayan Resurrection, and that they had allied with the Cult of the Dragon in hopes that Tiamat would repay them by helping overthrow Szass Tam.

Downtime
After the debrief, the heroes found themselves with some free time. With winter drawing near, and having suffered the loss of both Skyreach Castle and the treasure that had been aboard it, the cult and its leaders went to ground. Lady Remallia Haventree, the elven High Harper, invited the heroes over to her manor for dinner, where she introduced them to her husband, Lord Arthagast Ulbrinter. An influential noble in the city (and rumored to be one of the city’s Masked Lords), Ulbrinter expressed his desire to “wine and dine” the heroes among the city’s elite circles in order to drum up support for their cause.

Keo politely declined, opting to travel with Delaan Winterhound to Goldenfields, where he spent some time catching up with Imsa and reverse-engineered the magical cult emblem he’d claimed from Rezmir’s ashes. He was able to craft himself a new one in the form of the Emerald Enclave insignia. Looping it onto a large leather thong so it would still fit around his neck while in bear form, he was pleased to find that it magically enhanced his teeth and claws as he’d hoped it would.

As Imsa was just in the process of concluding her initial druidic training, she was able to rejoin Keo as his apprentice and accompany him back to Waterdeep. Before doing so, however, the goliath spent some time training to improve his powers of observation with Emerald Enclave operatives. [DM note: I am intending to give the PCs each a bonus feat at some point, and Keo’s player has chosen to take Observant.]

Meanwhile, Skie met with Lady Laeral in private to inform her that Mara had perished at the hands of her former friend Talis and that she, Mara’s ancestor, had taken possession of her body. She confirmed her desire to continue Mara’s mission and pledged her allegiance to the Lords’ Alliance. She then took a fast ship down the coast to Baldur’s Gate to break the news to Mara’s family. She spent the rest of her downtime training with Lords’ Alliance operatives upon returning to Waterdeep. [DM note: Skie’s player hasn’t yet decided which feat she’d like to take.]

Flint spent a good deal of his downtime copying spells from the spellbooks he’d acquired on his adventures into his own book before turning them over to his Harper colleagues. Leosin also arranged for him to train with a Harper spellslinger on the art of magical sniping. [DM note: Flint will be taking Spell Sniper as his bonus feat.]

Flint also discovered a newfound obsession with alcohol. In fact, he found that once he started drinking, it became very difficult for him to stop. It wasn’t long before Lord Ulbrinter stopped inviting him along to his little soirees. [DM note: This is the cost of Flint’s resurrection.]

As for Roscoe, well … the less said about his downtime activities the better. Suffice it to say that he spent a good deal of time learning new tips and tricks from Zhentish agents based in Waterdeep. He also made sure not to miss any of Lord Ulbrinter’s parties.

A Message Arrives
Finally, in the midst of a snowy winter, Flint received an unexpected magical message from none other than Talis! Using the sending spell, Talis told the dwarf: “You want to catch a wyrmspeaker? You’re in luck! Varram the White has been spotted near Boareskyr Bridge. Make haste lest he disappear again!”

Flint quickly informed his companions and they went and told Leosin, who called an emergency session of the Council Quiet to discuss the matter. While some were concerned that it might be a trap, all agreed that it was worth following up. Lady Laeral teleported the party to the middle of Boareskyr Bridge. Getting their bearings through the snow, they headed to the south end of the bridge and entered the tent city situated outside the walls of the fort that soldiers from nearby Elturgard had recently rebuilt. At the pavilion inn, they discovered that the Halfling proprietor remembered seeing a dwarf matching Varram’s description. She regarded him as something of a hero, though, because he’d attacked a yuan-ti spy that had been lurking in the inn. She added that they last anyone had seen of him, was when he’d taken his heavily-cloaked entourage north along the river.

The heroes hired a human guide named Elowyn and headed upriver themselves. Along the way, they met a patrol of Elturgard soldiers who said they’d seen a dwarf and some rough barbarian types traveling upriver in canoes a few days earlier.

Emboldened, the heroes pressed on through the rough wilderness of the Serpent Hills. Elowyn was able to steer them clear of the area’s worst dangers. After a few days, they came across a set of canoes, abandoned on the north side of the river. Their guide found them a safe place to ford and they headed deeper into the hills, hot on Varram’s trail. On the seventh day out from the bridge, they came to a canyon in which lay the ruins of an ancient town.

The Tomb of Diderius
Searching around the ruins, they found some freshly-dug graves and an abandoned campsite. Roscoe noticed some massive, partially broken statues flanking an old path and approached them. He was surprised when the statues moved to face him then spoke, asking him if he sought wisdom or knowledge. Thinking quickly, the halfling chose knowledge, which seemed to satisfy the statues, which reverted to their previous position.

Soon after, Elowyn departed with her payment, and the party passed between the statues to investigate a tomb in the cliffside beyond them. Someone had placed a ladder against the cliff to reach the tomb entrance. Roscoe got Imsa to turn him invisible so he could climb up and look around more safely. The tomb appeared to be full of shiny treasures, but as Roscoe’s greedy little fingers made to pick out a few pieces, they turned out to be illusory! In truth, the tomb was completely empty. Everything had been looted long ago. The only real thing in the tomb was a stone door in an alcove at the back.

Roscoe discovered that the door had been forced open recently. Popping on his magical nightvision goggles, he pushed the door open and peered into the darkness beyond, spying a series of cowled statues lining a corridor that led to another door. As he crept into the corridor, a thought came to him that he should avoid looking into the darkness inside the statues’ hoods, as some things were not meant to be known by mortals. As he reached the midpoint, the robed statues all turned their empty cowls in his direction, making it harder for him to not look. He managed it somehow, though, as did his companions, once he’d warned them of the danger.

In the next room, they found a tile mosaic on the floor that depicted an armored knight battling a chimera. A ledge ran around the room near the ceiling, and there were two doors and a sloped passage leading out. The door to the left bore the word “SAFE” written in chalk on it. The door directly opposite was bulging outwards.

Roscoe chose to check the door marked “SAFE” first. As he crossed the mosaic, Keo noticed that the chimera had started moving. It clawed its way up out of the mosaic, turning into a barely three-dimensional creature that proceeded to breathe fire on everyone before swooping up to perch on the ledge.

The tile chimera proved to have more bark than bite, as it did not breathe on them again. Despite being thin in one dimension, the heroes had little trouble scattering its tiles around the room each time it swooped down to claw and bite at them.

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The Council Quiet

Who’s Your Friend?
As the heroes gathered for their standard breakfast of oatmeal, Jamna wandered up and grabbed Erevan’s bowl. She poked around in it with her knife, all the while glancing over at some of the cultists (who were clearly trying not to look in the group’s direction). She pulled out a little round thing that she said was a bone spur that would uncurl when swallowed. Potentially fatal. Probably in all their bowls. She told them she’d talk to them again that evening, and off she went again.

Mara, Keo and Flint frantically dug through their oatmeal, finding a number of lumps that could’ve been just about anything. Keo obtained a sheep’s stomach from somewhere and placed the bone spur inside. Sure enough, it uncurled and pokes its spines through the lining of the stomach. Yikes!

That evening, Jamna told the heroes that she was on the same mission they were. She wanted them to help her break into the cultists’ wagons. The heroes replied that they’d already done that and gave her a quick rundown of what they’d found. Jamna was most grateful but offered little in return and evaded questions about her employer. Afterward, the heroes wondered if they’d done the right thing sharing all that info with her.

Murder Most Foul
A piercing scream awakened the group the next morning. Someone had been murdered! It turned out to be the traveler Pavel Borsk had hired as an extra guard after the late Losvius Longnose had gone snooping through his stuff. Both Pavel and his bodyguard, Umara, blamed Keo, despite the fact that the murder weapon had clearly been a sword of some kind, which was not something the goliath owned. As tensions mounted, Azbara Jos surprised everyone by coming forward and attempting to calm the situation. (“Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who!”)

When someone suggested that Pavel look to see if anything of his had been stolen, he spluttered a bit and then grew quiet. Edhelri and the other senior merchants all agreed that, without any witnesses, nothing could be done. The murderer’s fate was in the hands of the gods. The cultists seemed to think otherwise, though, as they proceeded to glare at Keo with undisguised hatred for the rest of the journey.

Waterdeep at Last!
On the fiftieth day of the journey, everyone heaved a sigh of relief as the City of Splendors came into view. The caravan disbanded in the city’s Southern Ward. Flint received his fifty gold for a job well done, while Mara only received forty from Aldor, who had docked her pay for her “poor” service. He also insisted that she sign a number of legal waivers. The merchants then unloaded their cargo and headed off to the Trades Ward.

The Harper Carlon approached the group and offered to use his many contacts in the city to keep track of the cultists and their wagons on their behalf. He told them to just take it easy and do a bit of sightseeing before meeting him at the famous Yawning Portal Inn later on.

The Council Quiet
When the heroes entered the Yawning Portal, they found Carlon waiting for them, along with Leosin and Ontharr! What a surprise! After a hearty greeting (and a quick explanation as to Erevan’s change in circumstances), Leosin informed the group that there were some others waiting to meet them in a back room. As the party headed across the inn’s common room, Ontharr nudged Mara in the ribs and pointed at some rookie adventurers getting ready to descend into Undermountain via the Entry Well. The two warriors shared a smirk and thought back to the days when they were just as inexperienced.

As the heroes entered the back room, they all felt the tingle of magic. The room was warded! Inside was a table laden with a fantastic spread. Present in the room were three noblewomen – two humans and a moon elf – as well as a male half-elf. Dressed in furs and leathers, the man looked out of place (and more than a little uncomfortable) next to the women in their expensive gowns.

Leosin introduced the elf as his superior, High Harper Remallia Haventree. She greeted the heroes warmly and then introduced her friend, Elia, a Turami woman who knew a lot about dragons. Leosin then introduced the third woman, Lady Laeral Silverhand. Although Keo had never heard of her, the others all had. She was one of the legendary Seven Sisters, the Chosen (and some say daughters) of Mystra, the goddess of magic! Although she was once a Harper herself, Laeral was present at the gathering on behalf of the Lords’ Alliance. Last but not least was the half-elf Delaan Winterhound, representative of Keo’s faction, the Emerald Enclave.

As Ontharr implored everyone not to let the food go to waste, Jamna made her presence known. Everyone had forgotten about her! She announced that she was with the Zhentarim and would like to be included in the gathering. She had knowledge she could share to make it worth their while. Remallia suggested they put it to a vote and asked Jamna to step outside briefly. Ontharr objected on principle, as he did not like the idea of consorting with such unscrupulous mercenaries, but he was the only one. Everyone else, including the heroes, voted to let Jamna join them.

To begin, Carlon gave his report. As the others tucked into their dinners, Carlon related that his informants had discovered that the cultists had all taken different routes to Virgin’s Square, their faction’s long-established meeting place in the city. (“You’d think they’d know better by now …”)

In the square, Barakis had met with a hooded figure, who must have been there to deliver the next set of orders, for shortly afterwards the cultists had all dispersed again. They were tracked through the city until they reconvened at a stableyard in Field Ward. The yard was owned by the High Road Charter Company, a business set up by the Open Lord of Waterdeep, Dagult Neverember, to rebuild the road to Neverwinter. After the cultists had deposited their cargo in the yard, they’d retired to a nearby inn. Carlon was able to learn that they had all signed on with the company’s next convoy, due to depart for the Carnath Roadhouse near the Mere of Dead Men a few days later.

Carlon surmised that the cult must have had a man on the inside (either an infiltrator or someone they’d bribed). Laeral quipped that she’d never allow the cult to infiltrate any of her pet projects. When the heroes inquired if she was implying that Lord Neverember himself might be in on the cult’s scheme, Laeral shook her head. Neverember was honest enough, she maintained. It was just that he was too preoccupied with rebuilding Neverwinter and ruling over Waterdeep to pay much attention to the little things.

Next up was Jamna the gnome. She had a number of interesting tidbits to share with the council. Firstly, she informed the group that the Cult of the Dragon had formed an alliance with a number of Thayan exiles, including the Red Wizard from the caravan, Azbara Jos. Jamna professed not to know the extent of their relationship, however, but made it clear that her superiors were keen to find out. The heroes backed Jamna up on that one, having seen Azbara Jos hitch a ride with the cultists on the caravan (after they’d turned everyone else away) for themselves, as well as having discovered links between the cult and the Red Wizards while in Baldur’s Gate.

But wait! There was more! Not only had one of these exiled Red Wizards actually joined the cult, but he’d also risen to the rank of wyrmspeaker! His name, Jamna said, was Galvan the Blue. This was news to all those assembled at the meeting.

Jamna then dropped a bombshell: she had it on good authority that the elves of the Misty Forest were paying the cult large amounts of protection money to stay out of their woods. At this, Delaan jumped to his feet, strenuously objecting on the grounds that he had a good relationship with the elves and had heard of no such arrangement. Furthermore, the elves would never even consider such a thing! Erevan agreed, saying that he’d seen no signs of anything like that during his (admittedly brief) time with the elves after his reincarnation.

The gnome shrugged. That’s just what she’d been told. Her next bit of info was that some other Zhentish agents had recently spied some cloud giants near the Well of Dragons, an extinct volcano that had long served as a dragon graveyard. When approached, the giants claimed they were searching for relics from their age-old conflict with the dragons. Jamna was offering this information on the off-chance that the giants could be convinced to help combat the Cult of the Dragon.

Last but not least, Jamna said she’d heard that the cult was also attempting to forge an alliance with the Arcane Brotherhood. The faction leaders look concerned at this, and Remallia indicated that she’d get some Harpers on it right away. While the Brotherhood may have reinvented itself as a mercantile organization in more recent times, there were still plenty of unscrupulously dangerous mages in its ranks.

Over the course of the meal, Flint noticed that Elia didn’t appear to like him. Despite the fact that they both shared an interest in dragon lore, she seemed completely uninterested in talking to him, with an attitude that was cool to the point of being rude. She was perfectly cordial to the others, so he concluded that it must have been something more personal. Perhaps she just didn’t like dwarves for some reason. Flint decided not to mention it to anyone else.

As the meal concluded, the faction leaders reiterated and expanded on the mission that Leosin and Ontharr had given the heroes back in Elturel. They wanted the group to continue tracking the cultists and their treasure wagons. However, once they’d learned where the treasure was ultimately heading, the heroes were to attempt to stop it from getting there. Laeral indicated that the Lords’ Alliance would like the treasure to be recovered, if possible, as much of it had been taken from people in their care. Remallia stated that she would particularly like it if the heroes could capture any Red Wizards they found working with the cult so they could be questioned. Finally, the faction leaders all wanted the heroes to attempt to capture Rezmir, the black wyrmspeaker who had so far remained one step ahead of them. Alive was preferable but dead worked too, as death was no real obstacle to communication.

As the council adjourned, Remallia took Flint and Erevan aside to formally welcome them into the Harpers. She thanked them for all they had done so far and raised them to the rank of Harpshadow. Lady Laeral did the same for Mara, raising her to the rank of Redknife within the Lords’ Alliance. Delaan also took Keo aside, but he just wanted to talk to the goliath about Imsa. The half-elf understood that Imsa wished to become a druid. However, he was concerned that she would not survive the dangers of Keo’s journey. He suggested that Imsa go to Goldenfields, a walled commune not far from Waterdeep that doubled as a base for the Emerald Enclave. There she could learn the ways of the Enclave and the druids in relative safety. When she was ready for the rigors of the adventuring life, she could rejoin Keo and train under him once again. Keo reluctantly agreed.

Safehouse
Before the council members dispersed, Remallia offered the heroes the use of a Harper safehouse. They asked for Jamna to be allowed to come with them, as they wanted to keep her close by. Carlon escorted them all across the city to the well-heeled North Ward, where they entered a seemingly-abandoned manor only to find it fully furnished. All of them were able to have hot baths and a good night’s sleep for the first time in nearly two months!

In the morning, the group chose to lie low for the day. The cultists wouldn’t be leaving until the next morning, but they would undoubtedly be on the lookout for their pursuers. ‘Twas better to just stay put in the relative comfort of the safehouse than risk being assassinated while out shopping or sightseeing.

Towards the evening, Leosin and Carlon stopped by to check on the party. Carlon offered to arrange to get them hired as guards for the convoy, but the heroes politely declined. They were tired of serving as caravan guards, and they could see how badly it could end if they came into close contact with the cultists again. No, they would shadow the convoy instead this time. Leosin then handed over a stash of magic items that the heroes’ factions had requisitioned for them, including a number of potions, a wand that could help them find secret doors and traps, and a robe covered in magical patches that could turn into a variety of useful items.

On the Road Again
The following morning, the heroes left Waterdeep, making sure to keep the dust from the convoy’s passage up the High Road in sight. It took another ten days to reach the roadhouse. Mara was somewhat upset at having to rough it out in the wilds again so soon. Along the way, the heroes were set upon by a lone troll that was attracted by the smell of their campfire. It rushed into the camp and proceeded to rip Erevan to shreds. When Flint hit it with a bolt of fire, it leapt across the fire to do the same to him. Keo turned into a bear and started shredding at the troll with tooth and claw, while Mara stayed where she was and repeatedly threw her magic axe at it. When the troll dropped to the ground for the second time, she finally remembered that fire was needed to keep it down permanently. While Mara busied herself with burning the troll to death, Keo healed up his fallen comrades. A short while later, Jamna wandered back into the camp, conveniently too late to be of any help in the fight.

Carnath Roadhouse
On the tenth day, the heroes stopped on a hill as the convoy made its way inside the roadhouse. After some discussion, the group agreed that Erevan would disguise himself as a cultist and go scout out the lay of the land. Using his magic to make himself look like an ordinary human, he strapped on the cult scabbard he’d obtained from the dragon hatchery south of Greenest and strode into the roadhouse. None of the cultists from the caravan recognized him, of course, but he quickly established that they all seemed to be there. Their cargo, however, was nowhere to be seen. He sought out the roadhouse commander, a surprisingly erudite half-orc named Bog Luck. The half-elf got the half-orc alone and magically charmed him into being his friend. The two then headed up to the kitchen to have a chat over some drinks. Erevan learned that Rezmir was in charge and that some lizardfolk came in the night to take the cult’s treasure away via a secret tunnel under the roadhouse strong room. Erevan was also able to ascertain that this wasn’t the first shipment of treasure the cult had brought to the roadhouse. The half-orc professed not to know where any of the treasure was taken, though he did remind Erevan that a big black dragon lived in the swamp.

Erevan slipped away again before his charm spell wore off and Bog Luck realized what was happened. Finding his real friends, the half-elf made his report, and the group decided (despite Flint’s objections) to bypass the roadhouse and head straight into the swamp in search of the secret tunnel’s exit so they could follow the lizardfolk carrying the treasure. Jamna volunteered to stay behind and keep an eye on the roadhouse, but the others insisted that she come with them.

With a growing sense of dread, the heroes ventured into the swamp, certain that the treasure was being taken straight to the dragon’s lair …