The Tomb of Diderius

As the tile chimera fell to pieces, the heroes took stock of their surroundings. There were the copper-plated double doors to the north, bulging under the weight of something heavy pressing on them from the other side, and the door marked “SAFE” to the west. To the east, an open passage sloped downwards, a pale glint of light visible at the far end.

Calling upon his dwarven upbringing, Flint surmised that the ceiling beyond the double doors had collapsed. He recommended that the group not touch them, lest they risk becoming buried in rubble.

Remembering that he had been heading for the door marked “SAFE” when the tile chimera attacked, Roscoe went and pushed the door open, revealing a short passage that led to a circular room with a stone well in its center. Bright red mushrooms grew around the well. Bedrolls and personal belongings lay strewn about the floor. A strange basin and lever were set into the north wall at the top of a short flight of stairs. While the others poked around the camp things and peered down the well, Flint examined the contraption and concluded that the lever opened a sluice that would allow any water poured into the basin to drain out through the wall.

The others found plenty of evidence to conclude that dragon cultists had made camp in this room, and while it looked like they’d been here quite recently, their waterskins were bone dry and their rations had all gone bad. This despite the mushrooms and a glint of water at the bottom of the well.

After a brief rest, the heroes decided to leave this room and investigate the sloping passageway. As they passed through the mosaic chamber, however, they noticed that some of the chimera’s tiles were now back in their original places in the floor. Worried that the chimera would regenerate and attack them again, they scooped up as many of the tiles as they could and then tossed them into the hallway with the creepy statues, then shut the door to prevent the tiles from drifting back into the room.

It’s a Trap!
Roscoe and Skie then led the way down the passageway. Despite Roscoe’s determination to spot any traps or secret doors first, it was Skie who noticed both a secret panel in the north wall and a pressure plate on the wall. The secret panel opened onto a small shaft that led down to another set of stairs.

The pressure plate, as it turned out, activated a trap. Much to Roscoe’s chagrin, he not only failed to disarm the plate but also triggered the trap. Back up in the mosaic chamber, a loud grating sound was followed by the sight of a giant spiky ball rising up out of the floor. As it began rolling down the hall, the heroes saw that it was actually made out of skeletal body parts, with the spikes being hundreds of finger bones! The ball bounced over Keo, who had flattened his bulky bear form against the floor, and went barrelling past both Imsa and Flint, only to smash into Roscoe and Skie, who found themselves being swept by many clutching hands into the ball’s interior. They were jostled painfully as the ball continued to pick up speed before smashing into a wall.

As the other heroes came dashing down the passage to help their friends, they could see that Roscoe had been battered into unconsciousness. Imsa healed up him with her magic. As he regained consciousness, a voice echoed in his head, indicating that he should humble himself in the manner of the followers of Mystryl should he wish to open the way to knowledge.

With no immediate danger apparent, everyone set about looking around the room, which was roughly triangular in shape. A small chute up near the ceiling in the southwest corner let in a bit of light from outside. There were also several faded tapestries depicting scenes of benevolent wizards bestowing their magical gifts upon grateful peasants.

Peeking behind the tapestries, Roscoe discovered that each one covered a niche containing a stone sarcophagus. There was also a set of double doors set into the north wall and a now-battered door in the east wall. Peering through the cracks, the halfling could make out a short hall leading to another door.

Having shared the mental warning he’d received with the others, Roscoe insisted that the smaller door was the more “humble” one and that they should go that way. Flint also recalled that the adherents of Mystryl, the original incarnation of the goddess of magic worshipped by the Netherese, would bow their heads and hold their hands up as if carrying a lamp. The heroes agreed to try that as they went through the smashed-up door.

The Library
Beyond the second door, they found themselves in another triangular room filled with empty shelves and dusty tables. As they looked around, a shrill, female voice called out in a language that only Flint could understand – and this was only because the wand he now wielded enabled him to understand it, for the voice was speaking in ancient Netherese!

The voice asked why the heroes had come and warned them not to steal anything from Diderius’ library or else they would suffer her wrath. At that, the apparition of a middle-aged woman dressed in robes matching those depicted on the statues outside manifested in the middle of the room with a sound like pages rustling in a breeze.
No one felt up to pointing out that there was nothing left to steal. They merely did their best to assure the ghost that they were not tomb robbers. Mollified, the ghost told them that beyond the double doors in the north wall was Diderius’ throne room.

The Throne Room
Thanking the ghost, the heroes made the sign of Mystryl again as they pushed open the doors and found themselves gazing at an impressive sight: a giant muscular man dressed in a toga sat on a throne made to look like clouds concealing a blazing sun. At the foot of the throne lay a pile of mostly copper coins and bits of pottery and other knickknacks, including a small glass vial containing a fiery orange liquid.

As the heroes’ approach, the man turned to look down at them and, in a booming voice, called out in Netherese. With Flint translating once again, the heroes learned that, if they wanted to meet with Diderius, they would each have to provide tribute. Flint extracted 50 gold coins from his magic bag and handed them out so everyone in the party would have something to place on the pile of treasure. This was deemed satisfactory and the man indicated with a sweep of his hand that they could now go through the door in the west wall.

The Devils
The door opened onto a short flight of stairs leading down, at the bottom of which was a large room containing two long stone tables. Roscoe snuck down the steps and peeked around the corners. He was surprised to see five rather fiendish-looking beings seated around a marble table at the north end of the room. Behind them was another door, and close at hand were their wicked-looking polearms. To the left, another set of stairs led down – the same stairs, he surmised, that he’d glimpsed from the top of the secret shaft in the trapped hall.

After the rogue had reported back, the heroes realized that they were up against some bearded devils – the shock troops of the Nine Hells, deadly in a fight, with their long weapons and their barbed and poisonous tentacle beards. The group decided to open with diplomacy.

Speaking disconcertingly as one in the minds of the heroes, the devils revealed that they were working for Varram, who had ordered them to remain here. They did not seem at all interested in fighting. Emboldened, the heroes headed for the door behind the devils, who did not try to stop them.

This door opened onto a ramp that led up to another door, which opened into a large chamber that had recently been the scene of a battle. Arrows lay scattered everywhere. Bloodstains spattered the floor here and there. The body of a human, dressed in the regalia of the Cult of the Dragon, lay near an empty pool.

The Divination Pool
Flint could automatically sense a lingering aura of divination magic in the room. He surmised that the pool was some kind of scrying device. There was even a sluice leading from the south wall to the pool’s edge. It must connect with the basin in the well room, enabling someone to fill the pool with water from the well, assuming you could get enough through before it evaporated.

The heroes examined the body of the dead cultist and were surprised to find that he’d been killed by a dagger strike rather than an arrow wound. The wound matched that made by a dragontooth dagger, in fact. It looked like the cultist had been sacrificed …

The arrows, meanwhile, had heads made of stone that were shaped like fangs. They bore the mark of a cobra with a crown. No one recognized the symbol.

To the south, double doors bulged out in a similar fashion to the ones in the mosaic chamber. A door to the north did not. The heroes went that way and found themselves in what could only be the real tomb of Diderius. A large stone sarcophagus sat atop a dais in the middle of the room. Frescoes depicting the (mostly) forgotten gods of Netheril decorated the walls. Four braziers glowing magical flames lit the room from each corner. Roscoe immediately senses that it would be really bad idea to touch anything in this room.

Diderius
In awe, the heroes tentatively approached the dais. A clear, commanding voice rang out from within. Flint translated the Netherese into Common again, letting the others know that this was Diderius speaking and that he claimed to know why they had come. In fact, even referred to Varram by name, indicating that a group of yuan-ti who lived in a lair accessible from the tomb had taken him captive. Diderius offered to open the way for them, and, with a chiming sound, a panel in the north wall began to slide upwards.

Ss’tck’al
On the other side, six astonished-looking lizardfolk waited in a grimy, humid cave lit by guttering torches. As Roscoe darted through the slowly widening gap with ease, the lizardfolk barely had time to blink before five of them lay dead on the ground, bleeding to death from well-placed stab wounds. The sixth manager to gather its wits enough to go hurrying down some steep, slippery stairs into a dark cavern, shouting warnings in Draconic.

Looking down the stairs, the heroes could see a long stone bridge, slick with moss, descending into darkness. Those with darkvision could see a number of figures milling about at the far end. Flint tossed a few fireballs down that end, and, after the screams had died away, bestowed Roscoe with the ability to walk on walls so he could go and investigate.

The stealthy rogue crept along the slimy walls of the cavern (and even with his nightvision goggles, he couldn’t see the bottom, although he could hear the sounds of slithering coming from its depths) and finished off the remaining lizardfolk guards. He caught a glimpse of some snake-headed yuan-ti men, but they soon vanished down another flight of stairs.

The heroes decided to rest in the room at the top before taking the plunge. Roscoe went ahead and secured a rope for the others using a piton driven into the wall. As a result, no one slipped off the bridge as they crossed. Past the bridge, the group descended some more stairs and came to an intersection.

Directly ahead, another set of stairs led up into a large, diamond-shaped chamber with some abominable snake god statuary in it. Some suits of plate armor lay on the floor of the room. To the right, a long hall stretched into darkness, seeming to writhe like the body of a snake. As Roscoe crept forward along the ceiling to investigate, he discovered that the disconcerting undulations were illusory. The rogue found what appeared to be a yuan-ti hatchery, filled with writhing young and guarded by a massive, snake-like yuan-ti armed with a large scimitar down one side passage. At the end of the hall, past several closed doors, he peered around a corner and spied some lizardfolk standing guard in front of another closed door. To their left, an opening was illuminated by flickering green light.

Reporting back, the group voted to head back to a safe spot and rest up for the night before venturing any deeper into the yuan-ti lair. Flint insisted on casting detect magic as a ritual on the shrine room first, though, which proved to be a mistake. Before he could finish casting the spell, a pair of snake-headed yuan-ti appeared from nowhere and attempted to enchant the heroes into fighting each other. Skie shook off their charms but Roscoe succumbed and proceed to attack Skie, convinced she was an impostor. The others knocked him out, Flint abandoned his spell, and they dragged the comatose halfling all the way back outside into the canyon.

Varram would just have to wait until the morning.

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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!