Lost in the Maze

Sometime after the attack on Waterdeep, Roscoe received a flying snake with a note from another agent of the Zhentarim. Within the note was a letter from a member of the Cult of the Dragon named Iskander, who claimed to want to defect with the blue dragon mask from a place called Xonthal’s Tower. Roscoe showed the letter to his friends. They took it to the council.

Everyone seemed to be of one accord: It was most likely a trap, but the risk was worth it, especially if the heroes could secure the tower for the alliance. Given its relative proximity to the Well of Dragons, the alliance would like to use it in the coming assault on the cult.

The heroes agreed to go investigate. Once again taking advantage of the Harpers’ secret teleportation network, the heroes zipped to Loudwater, then Keo turned them all into clouds and they wind-walked the rest of the way to the village of Xonthal’s Tower.

In the village, they learned that the maze surrounding the tower was magical and quite probably extradimensional. It was designed to keep people out but was also the only way to gain access to the interior of the tower. As the heroes stood at the entrance, gazing inside, they saw a figure up on a balcony near the top of the tower. Using magic to amplify his voice, the figure waved something that could have been the blue dragon mask and yelled out to find him in the dungeon below, accessible only with an hourglass-shaped key. Another figure appeared on the balcony and attacked the first but was ultimately thrown off the balcony. The first figure ran back inside.

Realizing they didn’t have time to dawdle, the heroes climbed over the fence the villagers had erected in front of the maze entrance to keep children and animals out and proceeded down the gently curving pathway. They soon came to an intersection with a sundial at its center. Even though the sun was setting to the west, the sundial cast a shadow straight ahead.

For some reason, they chose to turn around and go back the way they’d come. Instead of ending up back at the entrance, they instead encountered a dao disguised as a man, who invited them to join him for tea in a pagoda perched on a rock in the middle of a pond. The dao attempted to trap them with a wall of stone and poison them with drakeswort fumes, but the heroes resisted. After defeating the earth genie, they found a gem inside its tea pot.

Moving on, they returned to the same sundial (or an identical one). This time they decided to take the path towards which the shadow was pointing. After a short while, they came to another intersection with a sundial in the middle (or was it the same one?), only this time there were two shadows, pointing at right angles to each other!

Taking a path seemingly at random, the heroes came across a large, circular pool with another gem floating above its center. As Flint used his mage hand to collect the gem, four overgrown lobster-like monsters – which the wizard recognized as chuuls – emerged from the water to attack. As Flint and the others grappled with the creatures’ massive claws and paralyzing tentacles, the wizard remembered that the creatures liked magic items. He took out Dragongleam, the magic spear the party had found in Talis’ hunting lodge but had never used, and commanded it to shed light before tossing it into the pool. Sure enough, the chuuls all dove back into the water (with the exception of one that Keo had confused), and the heroes were free to escape with the captured gem.

This brought them back to the sundial with two shadows, although it may have been a different one. It was hard to tell, as the maze was extremely disorienting. Although they could almost always see Xonthal’s tower rising above the hedge walls, it never seemed to stay in one place. Marking their passage through the maze proved futile as well, as their markings either disappeared or the maze never allowed them to return to the same place twice. It was all thoroughly confusing.

The next path they took brought them to a large field full of boulders. To one side was a sheep pen and an oversized cottage. In the middle of the field were some sheep being tended by two cyclopes. All of the creatures seemed frozen in time but they came to life as soon as the heroes entered the area. The cyclopes played some kind of game and the loser came towards the heroes, picking up a massive boulder along the way. Instead of hurling it at the heroes, however, it turned and tossed it most of the way down the field. Both cyclopes then looked at the heroes expectantly. Keo approached and spoke to the cyclops in Giant, learning that they were expected to toss a boulder of their own further than the one the cyclops had tossed.

After some discussion of options, Flint ended up using stone shape to transform a boulder into pumice. Skie was then able to hurl it with enough force that it ended up bouncing past the cyclopes’ boulder, which promptly split open, revealing another gem inside. Roscoe took the gem and the group left.

They came back to the sundial with two shadows (or another one just like it). This time they took the path between the two shadows, which led them straight to an intersection with a sundial with three shadows! These shadows formed a Y shape. They chose to take the path leading between the two arms of the Y, which brought them to a fourth sundial. This one had four shadows, and as they approached it, the shadows began to swirl faster and faster and grew smaller and smaller until they disappeared within the center of the sundial.

Unsure of how to proceed, the heroes took another path at random, which led them to a carpeted area with bits of armor strewn all about and several suits of plate armor on pedestals to either side.

As the heroes entered, two of the suits came to life and attacked. As the battle progressed, the heroes discovered that each time they destroyed one suit of armor, two more animated. Once all six full suits animated, bits and pieces from the ground started coming together to form more suits.

Although a gem had rolled out of the first suit they’d destroyed, it took the heroes a while to battle their way through to the other end. Flint even went down at one point, surrounded by suits. They stopped attacking him once he was down, though, and he managed to stay alive long enough for his companions to rescue him by hooking him with a grappling hook and pulling him out from between the suits of armor.

After reviving Flint, they pressed on and returned to the sundial with the swirling shadows (or another one just like the first). Stumped, they slumped to the ground to catch their breath and have a think.

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 …