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.
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 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.
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.
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.