Beneath the softening rays of the mid-afternoon sun, the streets of the Faerûn city of Waterdeep are still bustling with folk eager to finish their work, chores and shopping to get home for the evening. The docks are still fairly busy too, so it’s fortunate that nobody notices the opening of a magical portal, nor the five weary, battered and rather soggy adventures who stumble through it before it snaps closed again.
This is unusual, as they’re an eye-catching bunch.
The tallest is a Tabaxi, although her feline features don’t seem to be quite right; her muzzle is a little shorter than that of a Tabaxi, one ear and one eyebrow are adorned with various hoop earrings and, when she speaks, her accent sounds decidedly foreign.
“Where are we?” she says quietly, gazing around whilst stroking the silver-grey fur of her cheek absent-mindedly. Her companion, a member of the Lizardfolk race, steps a little closer.
“I think we’re at the Waterdeep docks, Moon,” she says, her green scales iridescent in the sunlight as her copper-coloured reptilian eyes take in their immediate surroundings. She raises a claw and points. “Look, there are the spires of the Lord’s Palace.”
Moon Sugar is shielding her eyes to peer across the town when the two are joined by a Gnome with a personality much larger than her three-foot height, and a large Jackrabbit of Harefolk origin, dressed in monk’s robes that may once have been white.
“’Ere, Moon, Mirik,” says the gnome loudly, jerking her thumb at her companion. “I was just sayin’ to Yaseino that I think we were bloody lucky to ‘ave brought down a floating sky castle, not to mention offing that White Dragon!” The jackrabbit gives an expressionless silent nod, and she grins cheekily. “Who’d ‘ave thought that us lot could’ve killed a dragon, eh?”
“True enough, Loli” replies Mirik.
The wind, which had been sweeping in off the sea and across the docks, suddenly changes direction creating a noticeable shift in the atmosphere as if a storm were about to arrive. The birds in the trees at the edge of the city immediately quieten, barks from distant hounds fall silent, and the muddled, chattering sounds of city life become unnaturally hushed.
Curious, Yaseino twitches his long ears as he listens for any hint as to what could be happening, but he’s unable to discern anything beyond the blanket of silence that shrouds the area.
“This doesn’t bode well…” he says softly.
Loli abruptly squeaks and spins around as if she’s just remembered something important.
The little red-scaled Kobold is standing a few feet away from them, his wings folded behind his back, his head cocked to one side and a glazed look in his sparkling golden eyes.
“Do you hear it?” he says quietly, with a tremor of fear in his voice. “Do you hear the sound of a horn? It’s mesmerising. I think I should follow it.”
As he takes a step, Mirik rushes over and grabs his arm, and he seems to snap out of his trance-like state and steel himself against the eerie note that only he can hear. He shakes his head in confusion.
Loli’s expression turns to one of worry.
“We should probably ‘ead into the city,” she says. “Maybe someone there will know what’s ‘appenin’…”
However, as she turns to leave a shadow falls across them and she sees Moon, Mirik and Yaseino staring into the sky as a flight of twelve dragons passes overhead, their monstrous forms silhouetted against the setting sun.
“Like, ‘ead into the city right now,” whispers Loli nervously, as the sounds of life return around them.
Moon notices Raddak’s anxious expression and sidles over to him, giving him a wry smile.
“You might want to put on that Kenku costume of yours,” she says.
A Tabaxi, a Lizard, a Gnome, a Jackrabbit and a rather odd-looking Kenku, all weary from recently battling a White Dragon named Glazhael the Cloudchaser and bringing down Skyreach Castle, stop outside an inn with the dubious name of the Slaughtered Hand and, at Moon’s insistence, push open the door.
The interior is much the same as any other tavern in the land; dimly lit with a low wooden ceiling, smelling strongly of ale, and crammed full of people laughing, drinking and enjoying boisterous conversations. As the friends walk in, however, they’re greeted by a jolly voice that booms louder than all the others.
“Hello! The heroes have returned!”
Jumping up from his chair next to the roaring fireplace,the recognisable figure of Ontharr Frume, leading delegate of the Order of the Gauntlet, beams widely at them through his massive orange beard.
“Come in, come in, sit down here!” he bellows, waving his hand and turning towards the bar. “Inkeep, ale for all my friends, if you please!”
Moon doesn’t need to be asked twice and heads straight over, happily accepting one of the brimming, leather mugs that’s brought over for them. The others join her but, just as they are about to sit down, a young Elven woman walks over and leans in to speak quietly to them.
“I don’t think you should sit there. You should come and sit with me.”
Moon looks at her ale, then at Ontharr, who is joking boisterously with a fellow paladin before seating himself again.
“Mr Frume has just bought us drinks,” she replies. “It would probably be rude to just get up and leave.”
Ontharr turns to the group and smiles broadly.
“Oh, it’s no bother!” he laughs, winking at the Elf standing behind them. “Just come back and see me when you’re ready. There are matters to discuss!”
“Did you feel anything a little while ago?” the woman says urgently as she leads them to a table in a quieter part of the tavern so they can talk more privately.
“I did,” he says, timidly. “I heard a long, distant note like the sound of a horn, but the others couldn’t hear it.”
She nods, a slight frown on her face.
“Something bad is happening. Tomorrow, the Council of Waterdeep will convene, and you have been invited to attend as the heroes who brought down Skyreach Castle.”
“And what is your name?” asks Mirik, her head cocked to one side.
“I am Dala Silmerhelve,” she replies. “And the disturbance that’s been sensed along the Sword Coast is the Draakhorn, sounded by the Cult of the Dragon to call all dragons and alert them that great events are unfolding. The dragons hear it clearly and will eventually answer its call. So far, the Metallic Dragons have resisted but the Chromatic Dragons are gathering in earnest.”
Loli nods vigorously.
“Yeah,” she answers. “We saw a load of the bloody things flyin’ over the town when the atmosphere went wobbly. ‘Ow d’ you know all this?”
“I know of a bronze dragon called Nymmurh,” Dala says, almost a little reluctantly. “He has taught me about the Draakhorn and what it does.”
The arrival of Leosin Erlanthar, a member of The Harpers guild who is also familiar to the adventurers, suddenly draws Dala’s attention and she ushers the group back to join him and Ontharr, telling them that she will see them at the meeting the next day. Leosin greets them warmly and, as they sit themselves around the large fireplace, he explains to them that a lot of responsibility will fall upon their shoulders during the gathering.
“This will be a meeting of various organisations and factions,” he continues. “They have been assembled by Remallia Haventree, the leading delegate of the Harpers, but the alliance is not an easy one and many of the groups want different outcomes. It will be your job to bring them all together and ensure the alliance holds.”
“We’re screwed,” he says.
Leosin gives the Kobold a resigned look, though not an unfriendly one.
“My little friend, if you are, then we all are.”
After talking for a while longer, Leosin leaves with the promise that he will meet them outside the Lord’s Palace the following day so that he can escort them to the council session. Ontharr provides rooms for each of them for the night, and while Mirik pulls out her leatherworking tools to make adjustments to Raddak’s armour so that his wings will fit through it, Moon challenges Ontharr to a drinking match, which he accepts with an uproarious laugh. He loses to the Tabaxi, but only just.
The next morning, well-rested, bathed and fed, the friends set out for the centre of the city so that Raddak can find a tailor. He’s disguised once again as a Kenku and is now accompanied by his jet-black cat familiar, Ziggy, while Moon’s miniature albino death weasel, Gotham, sprawls on top of her pack wondering why he’s not a bat anymore. Running up behind a rather well-dressed gentleman and his wife, the little Kobold-Kenku tugs on the man’s coat tails.
“’Ello!’ he squeaks.
The man jumps, turns around and looks down at the tiny figure with wide eyes.
“What the frick?”
Raddak is unperturbed.
“Where’s the tailor’s?” he asks, before realising that Kenku can only mimic, not speak. He quickly removes the costume and favours the couple with a toothy grin.
The gentleman suddenly has a moment of realisation as he recognises the adventurers for who they are, the heroes who saved Greenest and battled a dragon to keep them all safe. He bows, tells them that news of their victory has travelled fast, then offers to take them to the best tailor in the Northern District.
The couple walk proudly in front of them, smiling and nodding to all the people who stop to marvel at the odd little band of adventurers, and it’s not long before they arrive at Havard’s Priestly Robes where the lady and gentleman bid them farewell with smiles and handshakes. Moon lights up a cheroot and casually leans against the wall outside, watching the city folk pass by and keeping an eye out for anything unusual. Yaseino keeps her company, while Raddak, Mirik and Loli head into the shop.
It’s not a huge establishment, but the inside has colourful displays and smells of fabrics. Robes of all kinds decorate the walls, although a lot are made of crushed velvet which isn’t what Raddak’s after. He walks up to the counter and strains his head up to see over it.
A rotund man comes out of the back room and grins at him.
“Good morning!” he says. “And what can I do for you, sir?”
The Kobold explains that he is a priest of Aasterinian and as such needs a set of appropriate robes, so the shopkeeper whisks him off to a separate room so that his associate can take his measurements.
“Let’s see,” he ponders, taking down some notes. “A robe of this design will cost you, oh, I’d say 500 gold pieces?”
Raddak is indignant.
“Don’t you know who we are? We are the heroes who saved Greenest, fought a White Dragon and brought down Skyreach Castle! We have been invited to attend the Lord’s Palace today, so I’m sure you could make the robes a little bit cheaper for that, yes?”
Flustered at the realisation, the shopkeeper nods eagerly, his face beaming.
“Oh yes, indeed!” he replies. “How about this – we make the robes for you for 50 gold pieces, and in return you allow us to paint a portrait of you wearing them to hang in our shop window?”
Raddak nods happily.
“And maybe we could embroider our logo on the back of it?”
The Kobold’s smile disappears, and the shopkeeper quickly offers something else.
“Alright, perhaps you wouldn’t mind wearing one of our brooches instead? It would be great advertising for us, and not quite as blatant as the embroidery.”
Raddak pulls a face but agrees, and he’s told to return in an hour and a half when the shopkeeper assures him that his robes will be ready for collection.
Outside, Yaseino is pondering an idea.
“We should ask the shopkeepers if they know anything about the different factions. It could help us to determine what each of them want to get out of this alliance.”
Moon agrees that this is a good plan, but her surveillance of the street has drawn her attention to numerous small posters pinned all around the area. Frowning, she stubs out her cheroot and wanders over to one of them, pulling it free of the lamppost so that she can read it more easily. It’s a flyer about a lost child called Johnny Morris, missing from the slums on the edge of the city. Yaseino inspects another, finding it to be for another missing child. In fact, each poster has details of a different child, all having recently disappeared from the lower-class areas that dot the city boundary, and there are at least thirty of them that the Tabaxi can see. When the others exit the shop, she points the flyers out to them.
“Do you think this is the work of the Cult of the Dragon?” she asks with an expression of concern. “After all, the quickest way to demoralise a population is to endanger their children.”
Loli notices a posh gentleman giving the posters a wide berth and, incandescent with rage, she accosts him.
He jumps and looks down at the gnome, wide-eyed.
“Yes! Why is nobody payin’ attention to all these missin’ kids? What’s ‘appening, and what’s bein’ done about it?”
His expression changes to one of puzzlement but he tries to remain polite.
“The flyers started appearing about two weeks ago, but nothing is being done as far as I know. The children don’t matter, they aren’t important.”
Loli’s face turns red and, as she looks like she’s on the brink of exploding, the man beats a hasty retreat.
She hasn’t calmed down at all as the group follow Raddak into a jeweller’s shop so that he can buy diamonds, and she’s still fuming about the lack of action by the time they return to the tailors. Quizzing the shopkeeper while Raddak tries on his robes and admires himself, he reiterates to her that the children have been going missing from the slums for the past two weeks and that parents are now holding their offspring a lot closer, fearing for their safety. Unable to help her any further, though, he turns back to the Kobold, insisting that he return so that they can create his portrait in fulfilment of their bargain. Raddak assures him that he is a Kobold of his word and, after the shopkeeper has attached two ornate Havard’s brooches to his new robes, the band of heroes emerge back onto the bustling street and head off at speed towards the Lord’s Palace.
“Ah, you’re here!”
Leosin greets them by the gates and ushers them into the Palace. The architecture of the massive hall inside is beautiful, with marble pillars, high gold ceilings and opulent statues and decorations. They follow him to the Council of Waterdeep’s chambers at the far end, where he stops and turns to them.
“I cannot go any further,” he says. “But I will give you this advice. Be strategically honest, not completely honest. As I said, much rests upon your shoulders.”
The other delegates are already seated around the round table in the centre of the room when the adventurers push open the door and head for the five empty chairs. Lord Dagult Neverember, the Lord Protector of Neverwinter, stands at head of the table and picks up his wineglass to toast the alliance and welcome the delegates, before calling the council into session.
“Here is what we know,” he begins. “The Cult of the Dragon was formed centuries ago to create Dracoliches but one faction has splintered off and is being led by Severin Silrajin, who believes that the texts were mistranslated and that dragons should rule the world. To this end, he has found a way to raise the five-headed dragon queen, Tiamat, by assembling five dragon masks.”
Raddak replies with a nervous, wavering voice, resisting the urge to raise his claw.
“We’ve already encountered Talis the White,” he says. “She was hunting for the white dragon mask.”
Lord Neverember opens his mouth to speak again, but he’s interrupted by a woman’s voice from the shadows at the side of the chamber.
“If the dragon masks are brought together in a ritual, the gateway will open and Tiamat will come through.” Dala Silmerhelve takes a step towards them as she speaks, and Lord Neverember’s expression changes to one of consternation as he continues.
“The five Wearers of Purple, the Wyrmspeakers, are the top commanders in this faction. Below them are the lower-level tiers; the Dragonsoul, the Dragonfang, the Dragonwing and the Dragonclaw. All of them want to see the world ruled by dragons, so what we need to do is…”
“What we need to do is find the Draakhorn and stop it from sounding,” Dala interrupts again.
Seeing the tension mounting between the two speakers, Raddak tries to diffuse it by piping up with more information.
“We also found out that the Red Wizards of Thay have an alliance with the Cult,” he says. “They are being led by Rath Modar. We fought him, but he escaped out of a window.”
Lord Neverember sits back in his chair.
“We had heard this,” he replies, thoughtfully. “Perhaps at this point we should introduce ourselves and let each other know what we can bring to this fight.”
One by one, the delegates stand to speak.
Uldar Ravengard represents The Flaming Fist, the military might of Baldur’s Gate. He pledges warriors and advisors to train conscript troops.
Ontharr Frume is the leader of The Order of the Gauntlet, and pledges paladins and clerics to support the fight.
Remi Haventree of The Harpers is the one who has brought all the factions together following the assassination of her husband, Arthagast Ulbrinter, by the Cult of the Dragon. She pledges eyes, ears and spies to aid the cause.
Delaan Winterhound of The Emerald Enclave pledges Druids, Treants and good-aligned Lycanthropes.
From the Lord’s Alliance, Lady Laeral Silverhand pledges Waterdeep’s army and troops; Dagult Neverember pledges troops from across the land; Connerad Brawnanvil pledges Dwarf soldiers and Dwarf-forged armour and weapons; King Melandrach pledges Elven Eldritch Knights; Taern Thunderspells Hornblade pledges the army and troops of Silverymoon; and Sir Isteval from Daggerford pledges Purple Knights and War Wizards of Cormyr.
Everyone turns to the adventurers, and Raddak stands up and clears his throat.
“I am Raddak, Cleric of Aasterinian, the dragon goddess. I must tell you that if we are not united, the dragons will take over the land.”
“It’s certainly an ‘onour to be ‘ere,” continues Loli, standing up alongside him. “Ourselves, we ‘ave worked through our differences, an’ if we can do it, we all can.” She draws herself up to her full three-foot height and enunciates her words. “We stand ready to fight for unity.”
Before the others can introduce themselves, Uldar Ravengard leans forward in his chair and speaks.
“It’s a shame you couldn’t save Skyreach Castle,” he says in a suspicious tone. “It would have been very useful to us.”
Loli agrees but describes how one of the Giants they encountered in the Castle told them how to bring it down, and that it had involved removing his hand to do so. She stresses that it was done with his consent, and they were under the impression that the only way to stop the Castle from reaching its destination was to crash it.
“And what of the black dragons you found in the hatchery?” says Dalaan Winterhound.
The friends all turn towards Moon, who had performed the killing blow on one of the young dragons and promptly removed a few of its teeth as trophies. She clears her throat, uncomfortable with all the eyes upon her.
“The dragons have been destroyed,” she replies simply, not going into any extra detail.
Dalaan looks at her disapprovingly.
“A shame,” he replies. Raddak jumps up again and addresses him.
“Sir, I used to serve a red dragon and as such I’ve seen how they are cared for. The Cult of the Dragon were feeding the innocent villagers of Greenest to these infant dragons and were raising them to join their cause, so we had no other choice.”
The leader of the Emerald Enclave pulls out his pipe and sits back in his chair, taking a puff on it as he considers the words of the little Kobold.
“You speak wisely,” he replies after a moment.
Without warning, the same sudden drop in the atmosphere, like the unnatural calm before a storm, happens again and Raddak ears twitch as he hears the ghostly sound of the Draakhorn drifting through the air towards him. His eyes glaze over and he starts to walk away but Moon grabs him, snapping him out of his trance and giving him the opportunity to cast Calm Emotions on himself as a countermeasure. A little embarrassed, he sits back down.
“We must stop the Draakhorn,” says Dagult Neverember, taking the silence as an opportunity to talk. “Its last known location was the Sea of Moving Ice, but unfortunately Maccath the Crimson, a Tiefling with the Arcane Brotherhood, has not returned from an expedition there to retrieve it. We fear the worst.”
He goes on to explain that the Sea of Moving Ice is home to Arauthator, a White Dragon whose lair is rumoured to be on a crown-shaped iceberg called Oyaviggaton and that, if Maccath is still alive, this place is most likely where she will be found.
“If she can be brought safely back to us, not only would the Brotherhood be most grateful but the knowledge she could share would be invaluable.”
The Lord Protector stands, turning to address the adventurers directly.
“Would you undertake this mission?”
As they nod in response, not quite sure of what they’re letting themselves in for, he walks to an area in front of the round table, gathers them into a line and then touches each of them on the shoulders with his sword.
“On behalf of the Lord’s Alliance, we bestow emergency investigative powers upon you. Know that this means you will answer to and be subject to oversight from the Council to see that these powers are not misused. Do you swear to trust us, as you yourselves are trusted by us?”
Each of the heroes swears their loyalty to the Alliance, and Dagult Neverember continues.
“A ship leaves this afternoon, the Frostskimmer, under the command of Captain Larustah Half-Face – you can get yourselves kitted out with arctic weather gear at the warehouse on the way to the docks. Report directly to me by Sending spell.”
Walking back to his place at the table, the man picks up his glass once more and raises it in a toast to the group, thanking them and wishing them every success on their journey.
The trip back down the streets of Waterdeep to the warehouse should have been an easy one for a band of adventuring heroes, but that’s not how things go in the Faerûn. Halfway there, the friends run into a long queue of people, all waiting at a pie shop that looks as if it popped up recently as it sports a painted banner above it instead of a proper sign. Moon taps someone on the shoulder and asks what’s going on, only to be told that the pies there are out of this world and that the city folk can’t get enough of them.
“How long has the shop been here?” the Tabaxi quizzes, curiously.
“Not sure,” replies the man. “But we’ve been eating them for about two weeks, I’d say? They’re mighty popular, though!”
At the mention of ‘two weeks’ the group swap worried looks, remembering that the children of the slums had started to go missing two weeks ago. With anger brewing in their guts, Loli and Mirk barge their way ahead of the queue and into the shop, closely followed by Raddak, while Moon and Yaseino go to investigate the bins around the back for anything suspicious.
“Oi!” yells Loli, authoritatively. “We’re ‘ealth inspectors, sent from the Lord’s Palace. We want to see your kitchens, NOW!”
The man behind the counter is thrown off guard.
“Yeah, the kitchens!” Loli retorts. “Did you not ‘ear me say we were ‘ealth inspectors?”
For a brief moment it seems as if the man’s eyes flash a different colour, but he regains his composure and calls to his colleague to open the door, waving them towards it. As Loli and Mirik stride importantly through it, they find themselves in a blood-spattered, tiled room with wooden trestle tables and gore-encrusted meat cleavers. Against the back wall, a small skeleton lays on one of the tables with a bloody bucket next to it. Horrified, the two spin back towards the door but the men, who have followed them inside, slam it shut preventing their escape. With malicious grins on their faces, they start to change; their eyes flash yellow and their skin turns greyish-green as vicious barbs erupt from their backs and heads. Loli pulls out her dagger and slashes at the nearest creature. Mirik draws her crossbow and fires at the other, which is aiming its nasty, barbed tail at the gnome. Raddak, who had been waiting in the shop, Dimension Doors into the kitchen to see what’s going on and immediately screams at the sight of the two barbed devils, drawing a slashing attack from one of the creatures’ claws…
Behind the shop, Moon and Yaseino have found small, human bones in the trash and are fearing the worst. The rogue quietly pushes open the back door and runs in with cat-like stealth, taking up a position behind one of the trestle tables. Yaseino isn’t so quiet. With a flying leap, the monk aims a kick at the head of the nearest creature, before landing on the same table and sweeping his leg around for another attack.
Loli has taken some damage but, thanks to Mirik’s Druidic healing, she starts to feel better and swipes at the first creature with her dagger again. Moon leaps across the table to flank the second creature with Raddak, firing her crossbow at it while the Kobold conjures a cloud of tiny Spirit Guardian dragons that spit and scratch at its skin. Seeing that this barbed devil is under healthy attack, Yaseino leaps over its head and positions himself between the two enemies, aiming punches, kicks and elbows at both of them in a flurry of blows. The creatures lash out with their claws and barbed tails, even hurling flames at the adventurers, but eventually the first succumbs to Raddak’s Spirit Guardians, while the second is distracted by Moon’s call of ‘Hey Spiky!’ and turns to receive an arrow from her longbow right between its eyes.
As they tend to their wounds, Loli hears sobbing coming from behind one of the barrels in the corner and finds three children tied up there. One of them is Johnny Morris, from the flyer they’d seen earlier. She manages to untie them and calm them down before her rage boils over and she goes storming out of the shop to hurl insults at the queue of people. The others follow and Mirik, who is the last one out, silently turns the shop sign to ‘Closed’.
“You lot! You know where your missin’ kids were?” Loli is shouting animatedly at the queue when two city guards show up. “IN THE FRICKIN’ PIES, THAT’S WHERE!”
Some of the waiting city folk turn white, some just plain leg it, while others meander slowly away trying to pretend that they weren’t queuing for anything. Loli spots the guards and drags the children over to them.
“YOU!” she yells, pointing her finger at them and waggling it. “We found these poor kids in that shop, about to be made into pies. Now, please take ‘em back to their ‘omes!”
The faces of both the men turn pale, and one runs over to a bin to throw up.
“Yeah, you’ve been eatin’ them, ‘aven’t you!” Loli yells after him. “I ‘ope you’re proud of yourselves!”
Leosin is waiting to meet them at the warehouse, and he smiles as he sees them approach.
“Well, you’ve taken your time! What have you been doing?”
“Stopping children being turned into pies,” replies Raddak wearily, still rubbing his remaining wounds.
The monk is utterly shocked as the adventurers elaborate on what happened, and they point him in the direction of the shop where they left the corpses of the creatures.
“I don’t understand why barbed devils are involved,” he says, thoughtfully.
“The best way to distract a population from mobilising and taking action is to mess with their children.”
“That’s true,” Leosin answers with a nod. “Thank you all, the Council will take this from here. But right now, we need to make sure that you are ready for the freezing temperatures on the Sea of Moving Ice. Come, this way.”
He takes them inside and gives them all warm fur coats, snowshoes, crampons and ice picks, along with extra rations for the trip, then directs them down to the dock to find Captain Larustah, bidding them farewell, for now…