Under Castle Naerytar

The Red Wizard
As the group prepared to leave the observatory in search of a safe place to rest, they heard footsteps on the stairs. A friendly voice called out not to shoot as Azbara Jos, the Red Wizard from the caravan, came into view. “Aha! I thought it was you fellows from the caravan!” he exclaimed as he came to a stop at the top of the stairs.

What ensued was an awkward conversation where the heroes attempted to position themselves to grab the wizard while he questioned them regarding what they knew about the cults’ plans, where and how they had obtained their information, and whether or not they thought the cult had much of a chance to succeed. The heroes seem disinclined to answer, so Azbara threw them a bone: he told them that the cult had a magic portal in the caverns beneath the castle.

When the group asked where the portal led, the wizard simply told them that they’d have to go through it to find out. They asked him what his involvement was, and he replied that he was a member of the Thayan Resurrection – a resistance movement intent on driving out the undead rulers of their homeland – and it just so happened that the cult’s plans aligned with theirs at the present time. Azbara also informed the group that Rezmir had gone to quell their little lizardfolk rebellion, while Dralmorrer was rallying his troops in the great hall.

When Azbara sensed that the heroes were getting ready to jump him, he took his leave, quickly scurrying down the stairs. As Keo made to follow, the wizard muttered a word of magic and disappeared. Frustrated by the wizard’s escape, the heroes decided to make the most of things and searched around the second floor of the keep. The main room appeared to be a sort of common area and office, with a small hearth and a writing desk. A door led to Dralmorrer’s private quarters. The PCs spent a good few minutes searching around. Erevan even thought to look under the carpets, where he found a loose floorboard, under which was hidden a small lockbox. He managed to pick the lock on his second try and found Dralmorrer’s emergency funds inside (some gold and silver coins and a mix of precious stones). Flint dumped the box into the bag of holding.

The heroes then used their sending stone to let Leosin know what they’d learned so far. He thanked them and asked them to head through the portal if they could to see where it led.

The dwarf then cast rope trick and the companions crawled up into the extradimensional space to get some much-needed rest. At one point, they noticed a couple of cultists poke their heads around the door, but seeing no one in the room, they departed again. It would appeared that the cultists had been mobilized and were searching the castle for the intruders.

The heroes chose not to go up against the full might of the castle’s forces, so they retreated to the lizardfolk camp. There they met up with Snapjaw, who told them of the glorious victory against the bullywugs, most of whom had turned and run at the sight of Pharblex’s head being paraded around by the lizardfolk. By the time Rezmir had arrived to put a stop to the fighting, most of the bullywugs were either dead or fleeing into the swamp, and the lizardfolk were celebrating. Snapjaw invited the group into one of the longhouses and told them that they could spend the night there safely. His people would cover for them if the cultists came calling.

The Caverns
In the morning, the companions resolved to find a way down into the caverns. They recalled that the lizardfolk had suspected that Pharblex had an underwater access, so they asked Snapjaw to find out. He sent some lizardfolk out to investigate. They located a tunnel in the murky water south of the bullywug camp. Flint was not keen to go in the water at all, so Erevan offered him an entire bottle of Berduskan dark wine to help him steel his nerves. Once Flint was pleasantly drunk, Keo cast water breathing on everyone, and they slipped out of the longhouse and headed towards the pool.

The journey through the tunnel was unpleasant but relatively swift and painless, thanks to Keo’s magic. The goliath also cast darkvision on Mara and himself, as they were the only ones who couldn’t see in the dark. After about 300 feet, the group emerged into a large underground lake. As they surfaced, they could see that the ceiling was only about 30 feet above them. The chamber was filled with the croaking of frogs, and they could make out a few of the amphibians lurking on the dry land.

As they emerged from the pool, they discovered that they had three options: a passage to the south, stairs ascending to the east, and a path leading north along the shore of the lake. They went south first and found two bullywugs guarding what turned out to be a frog tadpole hatchery. They intimidated/persuaded the bullywugs to run away, and the cowardly creatures both dropped their spears and dove into the pool.

They then went and checked out the stairs, which led up into an empty chamber that opens into another chamber filled with centipedes. They could see another set of stairs heading up on the far side but weren’t too keen to cross the centipede lair to get to it, so they returned to the lake and moved north along the shore.

As they reached the north end of the lake, they found a mist-filled passage leading up to an intersection containing a bank of fog rising three feet off the ground. Two passages led west, while a larger passage headed east. Since the mist seemed to be coming from that direction, they went that way first. They soon came to a tall cliff, at the top of which was a wooden crane and pulley system. Next to it was a ladder. Up they went and another flight of stairs led them up to a large chamber lit by a single torch burning brightly next to a set of ascending stairs. Beyond that was another, rougher flight of stairs leading down. In the middle of the room was a shallow pool of water, which appeared to be seeping out of a crack in the north wall. They headed down the far stairs and found a large chamber filled with mud, in which two bullywugs were happily making sure it was just the way they liked it. They let them be and headed back into the main chamber.

Next Flint turned Erevan invisible, and the half-elf slipped through the crack in the wall to see what was on the other side. (He was somewhat obsessed with figuring out where all the mist was coming from.) He saw nothing, but something saw him, despite the invisibility. A section of the wall next to him started oozing down and a pseudopod lashed out at him. Ducking, he retreated back through the crack, grateful that the thing didn’t follow.

Then Flint decided to cast detect magic as a ritual and walked around the caverns looking for magic. He didn’t find any until he pushed on through to the mist-filled room in the northwest corner, where he picked up conjuration magic emanating from the floor. Erevan and Flint used prestidigitation to briefly clear away some of the mist so they could see what was down there. They caught a few glimpses of what looked to be a permanent teleportation circle etched into the rock. Flint knew he’d need some kind of passcode or key to activate it, which meant heading back up into the castle.

It’s a Trap!
Before heading into the castle, however, they reckoned they’d better check out that last unexplored passage to the south of the portal chamber. They found some stairs descending to what looked like a shrine. The room was filled with frog carvings of various sizes, many placed on niches in the walls, as well as seemingly random collection of religious iconography that appeared to have been included for no discernible purpose.

They pressed on to the south and found Pharblex’s sanctum, with a muddy desk and chair, a box of candles, and a wooden chest. Treasure! Erevan headed over and checked the chest for traps. He could tell that it was rigged up so that anyone who wasn’t careful would cause some cleverly hidden clay pots in the ceiling to fall down around the chest. He gingerly set about disarming the trap but unfortunately only succeeded in setting it off! Five clay pots crashed to the ground, releasing a potent hallucinogen that quickly spread through the room!

The entire group succumbed to the poison. Keo came to believe that he was a frog and felt called to go and dive into the lake. The others, however, all saw each other as nightmarish frog-like monstrosities and proceeded to attack each other. Jamna turned on Erevan and took him out with two quick jabs from her poisoned shortswords. Mara attacked Jamna, and then Flint attacked Mara with bolts of fire. With Erevan down, Jamna turned to attack Mara. The warrior woman didn’t stand a chance and soon fell to the ground. Flint then shot his fire bolts at Jamna and nearly took her out before he, too, felt the call of the lake. He turned and ran out of the chamber. Jamna followed. Flint fired a shot back at the gnome, dropping her to the ground, then ran and dove into the lake and started swimming after Keo.

Luckily for the heroes, the druid’s water breathing spell was still active, so there was no need to worry about drowning! Eventually, the hallucinogen wore off, allowing Flint and Keo to come to their senses. Climbing back out of the pool, they hurried back to the sanctum. They found Jamna unconscious but stable in the shrine room. Unfortunately, when they reached Pharblex’s sanctum, they found that both Erevan and Mara had succumbed to their wounds. Flint took the opportunity to look in the chest, now that the trap had been sprung. Inside were two spellbooks! Flipping through them, he saw that one had once belonged to a slightly more powerful evoker, while the other had belonged to a significantly more powerful mage with an eclectic taste in spells.

Reviving Jamna, Flint and Keo dragged their fallen comrades’ bodies out through the underwater passage and back to one of the lizardfolk longhouses, where they proceeded to loot their bodies. They also let Leosin know via the sending stone that they’d be in need of reinforcements.

What will happen next?! Tune in next time to find out!

DM Note: Mara’s player was out sick, but her husband, who plays Erevan, was directed to play her. He is considering the possibility of bringing back his halfling rogue from our previous Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign (seeing as how Phandalin is practically a stone’s throw from the Mere). For his wife, I have extended the same one-time offer I gave him way back at the beginning (when Erevan was slain by Lennithon the blue dragon in Greenest) and my own wife just recently (when Flint was slain by the giant crocodile in the swamp): namely, that she can choose to have her PC survive at the cost of suffering a (semi-)permanent injury of some kind. Erevan’s injury was that neurological, confusion-based injury, while Flint’s was the loss of his arm. We shall see what Mara’s player decides. She could also potentially bring back her LMoP character, although you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference between that character and Mara, as they are both based on the Starter Set noble fighter pregen.

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Castle Naerytar

Through the Swamp
Leaving the harrowing experience with the giant crocodile behind them, the heroes paddled on through the murky water. As the sun started its descent into the west, everyone was relieved to set foot onto relatively dry land again. Snapjaw led them through the tangled undergrowth, making sure that none of them stumbled into any of his people’s hidden traps.

At one point, Snapjaw warned the group that they were approaching a watch post. He told them to wait while he went forward and met with the six lizardfolk guards, attempting to convince them that he had brought the tribe’s saviors with him. He mentioned that the great dragon had spoken to the heroes, and that they were now on “a mission from god” (as it were). He also pointed to Flint’s missing arm and told them about how the dwarf had survived an encounter with a giant crocodile. The heroes looked the part well enough that the guards were suitably impressed. They agreed to send word out to the other members of the tribe.

Castle Naerytar
A short while later, Snapjaw brought the heroes to the castle. He pointed out the stockade in which the giant lizards used as pack animals were kept, and the crude huts the bullywugs used for shelter. He led them to an expertly-made reed longhouse, roomy enough inside for quite a few lizardfolk, and offered them a meal consisting of smoked fish and crushed birds and lizards. The group relaxed in the longhouse until well after the sun had set.

When it was time for the lizardfolks’ nightly meeting, Snapjaw roused the herpes and escorted them past the bullywug guards in the barbican and across the causeway. They could see a few lights flickering through the windows and arrow slits in the castle but no one was out in the yard. Snapjaw led them into the forge and up the staircase to the armory above. There, representatives of the lizardfolk stationed in the castle were already waiting.

Snapjaw repeated his sales pitch, but this time the lizardfolk were a little more leery, perhaps because several of them were the elf Dralmorrer’s personal guards. Erevan stood up and did his best, in his finest Draconic, to sway them over to the plan of open rebellion. His stirring words proved sufficient, and then all that needed deciding was when to attack: should they attack right then, while the bullywugs were sleeping, or wait until morning, when more lizardfolk would have had time to come in from the swamp?

Assassination Time
The heroes opted for the element of surprise. They wanted to take Pharblex the bullywug shaman out while he was sleeping next door, and after getting a better description of the layout of the castle from the lizardfolk bodyguards, they thought they knew just how to do it. Once the plans were in place, the heroes popped their potions of climbing and walked out onto the roof of the forge, over the castle wall, and around to the back side. Flint then put on the robe of useful items and pulled off the patch with a window on it. They stuck it on an arrow slit leading into the third floor of the barracks, which widened it enough that they could all slip through.

They found the third floor empty, except for a few old training dummies. A faint glow – and a sickly stench – rose up from the stairs leading down to the second floor, though, where the lizardfolk had said Pharblex and his guards slept. Erevan crept down the stairs to see. Sure enough, there was the bullywug shaman, slumbering alone at the far end of the room, while his guards slept in a great heap in the middle. Ranged about the room were jars full of fireflies. It was their light that was giving off the glow. The floor was covered in mud and filth. Hence the stench. The half-elf crept back up and reported his findings to his friends.

Flint moved back over to the window and used prestidigitation to send a signal to the lizardfolk. As they barged into the first floor of the barracks and start slaughtering the bullywugs down there, the heroes set up their ambush. Jamna snuck down and across the floor to stand over Pharblex, then waited for Erevan to fire an arrow into the shaman’s bulk. Meanwhile, Keo planted a spike growth on the area around the bullywug heap.

Mara nearly ruined the plan by not bothering to even try to be stealthy as she ran across the room, but even though she woke up most of the bullywugs, it took them too long to realize what was happening. Before any of them could even croak out a warning, Pharblex was shot, stabbed, and decapitated.

While the guards were able to leap out of Keo’s spikes and head for the stairs down, some of them ended up returning when they saw the slaughter that was taking place below. The heroes made short work of them. Jamna and Erevan had a bit of a contest to see who could find anything of interest on Pharblex’s body. Erevan won, finding the key to the chained and padlocked chest in the room. He opened it up to find it full of women’s jewelry and accessories. The collection seemed a bit out of place, but the heroes weren’t too fussed, chucking it all in Flint’s bag of holding to sort through later.

Heading downstairs, they found that the lizardfolk had lost six men, but there were close to thirty dead bullywugs in the room. The lizardfolk were keen to go and slaughter the bullywugs in the barbican next, so off they went while the heroes walked out onto the barracks roof to survey the scene. Some cultists had come out of the doorway directly opposite the barracks to see what was happening and then hurried back inside. The heroes decided to head for the observatory at the top of the keep in the center of the castle courtyard. They used an archway where some gates used to be in the wall separating the outer yard from the inner yard to get to the keep without having to set foot in either courtyard.

The Farseer of Illusk
As luck would have it, the magical telescope had not been left unguarded. As the group neared the roof of the keep, what had appeared to be mere grotesque statuary animated. Erevan made a beeline for a hatch leading to the interior of the observatory, with Keo (and Jamna, who’d been getting a lift from the goliath) hot on his heels, while Mara and Flint attempted to hold off the gargoyles. Once inside, Keo summoned up some bears and then shifted into his own bear form as the gargoyles followed him into the room. The foul creatures bit and slashed him quite badly, though, and he was unable to maintain concentration on his spell, the bears vanishing with a pop.

The group were eventually able to destroy all four gargoyles without any losses on their own side. However, the destruction of the stony creatures had been quite noisy, especially since one fell about fifty feet down to the courtyard, where it shattered into lots of pieces, while another broke apart and clattered down all over the telescope’s brass roof. Realizing that the cultists would be alerted, the heroes paused only to smash as many of the farseer‘s fragile pieces as they could find before agreeing that it was time to get out and find a safe place to rest.

The Mere of Dead Men

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!

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 …

The Long and Winding Road

The Concert
That evening, Flint organized a concert. It was all part of a clever plan he had concocted to enable Erevan to snoop through everybody’s wagons while their owners were distracted. Before the concert started, Flint snuck into the woods where Erevan was waiting and cast invisibility on him.

During the concert, the elves, Edhelri and Noohar, sang haunting melodies and Werond, Edhelri’s teamster, told heartbreaking stories of lost love. Then Flint broke out the dwarven poetry. The long-winded epic soon had everyone on the verge of falling asleep, but then Lasfelro the Silent came to the rescue and entertained everyone with his fine tenor voice and hilarious jokes.

Erevan used this as his cue to sneak up to the back of Lasfelro’s wagon. He was hoping that the gargoyle guard didn’t have any special senses. Despite being only half an elf now, he was nevertheless still graceful enough to get up into the back of the wagon without alerting the gargoyle. He was quite surprised to find that the wagon was full of dirt with a few roots protruding from it here and there. His immediate thought was vampires, so he pocketed one of the roots (without the gargoyle seeming to notice). After finding Keo in the crowd, Erevan handed him the root, but as far as the druid could tell, it was just from an ordinary shrub. Despite this, Erevan was still suspicious that there might be a coffin buried under the dirt.

As the concert continued, Erevan went to have a look at Morn Amblecrown’s wagon. The snooty nobleman from Iriaebor was supposedly carrying dried fruits from around the Sea of Fallen Stars. Although his friendly bodyguard, Larion, and sleazy teamster, Salazar, were off at the concert, Morn had stayed behind to guard his wagon. Erevan found him sitting morosely on the driver’s seat, so the elf circled around to the rear, where he spotted a bunch of crates. Very carefully, he pried one open only to find that it was filled with bags of money, with nary a fig or date to be found!

This was all the evidence he needed to conclude that Morn’s wagon was the third – and hopefully final – cult wagon. It would appear that the cult had split up their stolen hoard, with Morn carrying the coins, Pavel carrying the objets d’art, and the Appledowns carrying the jewels and gems.

As the concert wound down, Erevan took a quick look at a few other wagons but found nothing suspicious in any of them. He related his findings to Keo and then slipped back into the woods before Flint’s invisibility spell expired. He met back up with the wood elves of the Misty Forest, who guided him on their secret paths so that he could arrive at the Way Inn before the caravan and pretend to be a new traveler wishing to join.

Spider Woods
Several days of traveling later, the caravan was passing through a small forest when it was set upon by ettercaps and their giant spider pets. Two ettercaps went for the horse leading Lai Angesstun’s wagon. Sulesdeg the Pole came running to help only to get a bit webbed up in the process. Mara stayed on Aldor’s wagon, throwing her magic axe at every available target, while Flint got into a desperate struggle with a spider that crawled up the side of the wagon. The dwarf quickly gave up trying to cast any spells at it and whipped out his trusty warhammer instead, splattering spider guts everywhere.

After Keo turned into a bear and mauled the ettercaps, the fight was finished. No horses were taken, but two guards were killed elsewhere in the fighting. That night, the adventurers were lauded as heroes for saving the caravan yet again.

Animal Abuse Redux
Keo finally caught Grigor in the act of beating his horse. Since he didn’t want to start a fight with the vicious nobleman and his two powerful-looking bodyguards, he instead took the news to caravan master Edhelri. Using the fact that she doted on her own animals as leverage, Keo was able to convince the elf to expel the nobleman from the caravan. Although Grigor protested, no one else sided with him, and he was forced to make camp elsewhere. Although Keo wished he could have done more for the horses, he felt that his hands were tied and hoped that his fellow Enclave members would understand, should they ever hear about the incident and his handling of it.

The Way Inn

As the caravan settled down for another rest day in the walled village named after the famous Way Inn, Erevan (now posing as “Elessar Inglorion”) approached Edhelri, asking to join as a traveler. Although the elven caravan master noticed something familiar about him, she wasn’t able to identify him.

All through the day, the heroes keep an eye on the cultists. Keo and Barakis, in particular, eyed each other up but kept their distance. It was doubtful that the cultists had given up trying to assassinate the goliath druid, and yet they seemed to be in no hurry to try again. And for whatever reason, they didn’t appear to have identified Mara and Flint, despite the fact that neither of them had ever bothered to change their appearance.

Payback
The day after leaving the Way Inn, on the way to Bowshot, the caravan stopped suddenly. Shouts could be heard from the head of the caravan, and as the heroes move forward to investigate, they were shocked to find a human head in the middle of the road! Keo inched closer and discovered that the head belonged to a human who’d been buried alive in the road. Not only that, but the word “oathbreaker” had been written across the man’s forehead as well. The man appeared unconscious, and it was obvious that other wagons had passed him by without stopping. Many of the merchants insisted that the man got what he deserved and should thus be left there, but some of the others weren’t so sure. Edhelri called for a rest stop while the heroes spent a few hours digging the man out and then filling up the hole again.

The man was clearly in a bad way, so Keo fed him a few goodberries to bring him round. Flint and Erevan both noticed the Harper symbol tattooed on the man’s shoulder and quickly gave him a cloak to cover up with, as he’d been buried with nothing but a loincloth. The man introduced himself as Carlon Amoffel, and he explained that he’d broken an oath to marry a woman whose family had turned out to be bandits. They’d buried him in the road for refusing to join them.

Erevan wasn’t convinced, so he and Flint got Carlon alone later on and revealed their allegiance to the Harpers, which prompted the man to tell them the truth: he had been tracking some dragon cultists transporting stolen goods. They’d spotted him reporting to another Harper agent at the Way Inn. The cultists had then convinced the other members of their caravan that he’d committed some sort of crime, for which he’d been buried alive, his fate in the hands of the gods. Carlon added that he was a native of Waterdeep and had many contacts there, so he’d be happy to help his fellow Harpers in any way he could once they reached that great city.

Daggerford
After passing through Bowshot, Liam’s Hold, and Gillian’s Hill, the caravan finally arrived at Daggerford in time for another rest day. The party were surprised to see a cloaked and hooded man approach Morn Amblecrown and successfully purchase a seat on his wagon. Previously, the nobleman had turned away all offers from travelers looking to hitch a ride on his wagon (as had his fellow cultists, Pavel and the Appledowns). Even more surprisingly, the group noticed that the man was being shadowed by a dodgy-looking female gnome. She seemed quite keen on the man’s interactions with the cultists, occasionally sidling up close to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Over the course of the next few days, the heroes became aware that the gnome was also keeping an eye on them. Erevan decided to confront her. She introduced herself as Jamna Gleamsilver. When he asked her if she was a member of the Harpers, she scoffed at him. Without revealing his own allegiance to the Harpers, he managed to glean that Jamna was working for someone who was just as interested in the Cult of the Dragon’s activities as the Harpers were, and while she refused to say anything specific, he was convinced that she knew more than she was letting on.

High Holy Day
The autumnal equinox had arrived, and with it the performance of various religious rites. As the caravan traveled up the coast towards Waterdeep, it cames across a mass of people blocking the road as they flagellated themselves with barbed scourges. The heroes soon ascertained that these were followers of Loviatar, the Lady of Pain, and they were enacting the Rite of Pain and Purity. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like they had any intention of stopping any time soon, so the caravan couldn’t make any headway.

As threats of violence weren’t likely to have the desired effect, Edhelri summoned the ever-persuasive Mara. The warrior woman was surprised to find that her employer, Aldor, was actually keen for her to go help for once, as he was impatient to get moving again. Mara singled out a priest among the throng and tried to persuade him to lead his flock off the road, but much to her surprise, her words seemed to fall on deaf ears. The priest was just not interested in listening to reason! Just then, Keo spied a large briar patch in a nearby field. This changed everything. Soon the Loviatans were happily rolling around in the thorns and the caravan was on its way again!