The Serpent’s Lair

DM note: This post covers events from the past two sessions.

After a nice long rest in a cave, protected by Flint’s spells, the group headed back into the tomb.

First, they went and pumped the ghostly librarian for more info, with mixed results (Skie now looks to be in her sixties!), then they headed back through the throne room to talk to the devils. They mentioned that there was treasure in the room at the bottom of the stairs but wouldn’t say what was down there without a bit of something in return (they may have mentioned something about gems).

Leaving them to twiddle their thumbs – or whatever it is a pack of devils does when left on guard duty for long periods of time – the heroes pressed on to Diderius’ tomb. The long-dead wizard opened the way again, and the heroes slaughtered some more lizardfolk guards in the cave beyond and fought off their yuan-ti handlers.

Next they went up into the yuan-ti shrine and ended up fighting two suits of armor animated by swarms of snakes. They were soon dealt with.

Upon finishing off the snake horrors, the group proceeded up into the yuan-ti shrine room, where Roscoe resisted the temptation to pry out the rubies in the statues’ eyes. Instead, he listened at the door through which the yuan-ti had come, then opened it to find a short passage ending at another door. This one opened to reveal an ovoid chamber riddled with holes in the floor – along with two different yuan-ti.

Roscoe and Skie proceeded to talk to them, convincing the yuan-ti that the party didn’t want to fight. The yuan-ti, surprisingly, agreed and offered to take the party to their leader, a priestess named Asutali.

The yuan-ti led the heroes down the undulating hall and into a grand temple filled with more snake-themed statuary. Green flames guttering out of the statues’ mouths illuminated the temple. At the far end, a large snake-like yuan-ti waited, a dragontooth dagger held to an unconscious dwarf’s neck. The dwarf was dressed in purple robes. It was Varram!

Asutali indicated that she would gladly hand the dwarf over provided that the heroes promised to leave her people’s lair without further violence and never return. They readily agreed, but as the yuan-ti priestess released the dwarf’s body, she warned the heroes that his soul had been sucked out of his body temporarily and would not return until they had gotten him out of the lair.

Keo carried Varram’s body back to the divination pool room, where the party was able to revive him. He seemed resigned to his fate and admitted that he had lost the white dragon mask. He had come to the tomb to use the pool to find out where it had gone; unfortunately for him, it had already been recovered. He was now no longer welcome in Severin’s inner circle. Most likely, Talis would take his place.

The heroes managed to get Varram to talk about the room at the bottom of the stairs: he said it looked to have been Diderius’ bedchamber and was guarded by incorporeal undead. He’d lost a few men in there. The heroes then got him to call off his devilish guards, who vanished back to whatever infernal realm they’d been summoned from.

Heading out to the canyon, a slow clap brought the heroes’ attention to the clifftop above, where they discovered Talis waiting, sitting astride the white dragon they’d chased away from Skyreach Castle. Talis demanded that they hand Varram over to her if they wanted to live. Varram wasn’t keen on the idea.

Not wishing to relinquish their prisoner, the heroes retreated back into Diderius’ antechamber to rest. Upon their return to the tomb entrance, they discovered that some dragon cultists were waiting in ambush there. A fight ensued, during which the dragon and Talis kept swooping down to attack before flying back up out of sight.

The heroes managed to dispatch the cultists with relative ease, and Flint temporarily trapped Talis in a resilient sphere. Although she broke out, the party took her down with ranged attacks and the dragon breathed one last time in its fury before swooping away with Talis’ limp body still on its back.

Although the dragon’s icy breath knocked several of the heroes down, Keo’s protege Imsa was able to keep everyone alive. Flint contacted Leosin via the sending stone; the half-elf told the party to head back to Boareskyr Bridge, where he would send help. After limping back through the wilderness, attracting nothing more than a pack of vultures, the party found a small animal with a scroll of teleportation waiting for them at the bridge.

Flint successfully cast the spell from the scroll, and the heroes found themselves standing outside the gates of Waterdeep, with Varram still in tow.


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.

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.

To the Serpent Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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