Up on the battlements of Skyreach Castle, two hundred feet in the air, Moon Sugar is sketching the view of the Sword Coast into her parchment book with charcoal, having never seen anything like it before. Beside her, Yaseino is meditating. Neither of them notices Leosin Erlanthar until he’s right behind them and greeting them cheerily.
“Hello!” he beams. “I was hoping to speak to all of you together. Do you know where your companions are?”
Moon looks up and nods a hello to the friendly Harper.
“They are still in our quarters, I think” she replies, as he leans over her shoulder and admires her artwork, complementing the tiny flight of dragons she’s added at the top of the page.
Yaseino slowly opens his eyes and then bows his head in respectful greeting.
“We will accompany you,” he says simply, standing up.
Ten minutes later the group are all seated around the fire as Leosin tells them about their new mission.
“We’re currently heading down the Sword Coast to Baldur’s Gate,” he explains, a calm tone to his voice. “Obviously we can’t fly a castle over land in case it frightens people, but we’ve arranged for a boat to meet you and take you into the port. I’m sure that Storvik can work out how to lower this thing a little bit.”
He sees the worried expressions of the group and smiles reassuringly.
“Don’t worry, it will be fine! Uldar Ravengard of the Flaming Fist is awaiting your arrival at Baldur’s Gate, and after passing through the city you will need to make your way by road to the trade settlement of Boareskyr Bridge, and the Serpent Hills.”
Raddak raises his hand and then quickly puts it down again, feeling self-conscious.
“Is there anything you can tell us about Varram the White?”
“Not much,” replies Leosin, leaning forward in his chair. “We know that he is a Dwarf, and that he is the White Wyrmspeaker. However, we also know that he has lost possession of the white dragon mask, and it would be extremely useful if we could find it before he does.”
“What d’you know about these dragon masks?” asks Loli. “D’you know what they’re for?”
Leosin gives her a resigned look.
“We’re just aware that there are five dragon masks; Blue, Red, Black, White and Green, and that these masks must be brought together before Tiamat can be raised.”
“So, if we were to get hold one of them, then the ritual could not take place?” Raddak ponders.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” replies the Harper. “But it’s definitely worth a try, don’t you think?”
That evening, Raddak scrys on Rezmir to see if he can gain any insight as to what’s happening with the cultist who orchestrated the raid on Greenest. He sees her at a writing desk in a cavern, with two chests beside her. As one of the Red Wizards of Thay enters the room, Rezmir picks up a beautiful, jewelled, black mask and puts it on, before standing and turning to face the man. Raddak tells Leosin about this straight away, and he expresses concern that Rezmir has possession of the black dragon mask.
The next day is a busy one for the adventurers. Storvik lowers Skyreach Castle to a height of one hundred feet above the two boats that are to pick them up, but Moon and Yaseino slip while climbing down the ropes. Thus, three dry heroes and two very wet, bedraggled ones are dropped off at the western docks of Baldur’s Gate, much to the surprise of the locals. They immediately head for the Merchant Quarter. Although there isn’t anywhere to buy magical items, Moon gets herself some cool, black, studded leather armour, and Raddak purchases a Ruby of the War Mage, which he plans to attune to when they rest for the night. They also buy some rations, as they really don’t have too much food left and Yaseino is a strict vegetarian.
They’re just enquiring about the location of the legendary Simon the Stable Boy so they can buy horses when a guard comes dashing up to them.
“My apologies, we missed you at the port,” he says breathlessly. “But horses and provisions have already been arranged for you by Uldar Ravengard. Please, come with me.”
As they walk to the northern gate with the guard, the group studies the map given to them by Leosin and decide that their best bet is to take the road through the Fields of the Dead. It may sound like a tremendously bad idea, but they are familiar with that region having travelled it before and they know a little of what to expect. For example, it was in these fields that Loli acquired her terrible aversion to mushrooms after accidentally stepping on some specimens that screamed in anguish at her.
Their horses also seem to know where they’re headed, but they’re stout of heart and aren’t put off by a road that is getting steadily quieter and quieter the longer they travel it. Although Loli rolls her eyes when she hears Moon name her horse Optimus Prime, she’s far more concerned that Raddak really isn’t sure how to treat his; Kobolds are known more for eating horses than riding them. When they stop for the night, she casts Speak with Animals to check that all the animals are happy and calm, making sure to apologise profusely to Raddak’s and offer it an extra apple.
The next few days of travelling are rather odd. During the daytime, the ride is peaceful, uninterrupted and almost enjoyable, even when it’s raining. But on the first night they’re attacked by skeletons and zombies. On the second, they find themselves having to fight off huge insect-like ankhegs and mummies. And on the third, they’re woken by a gang of berserkers with a unicorn who are trying to steal their horses. Moon sighs and rubs her eyes, then steps out of the protection of the Tiny Hut and walks over to Optimus Prime.
“Yes, hello,” she says to the berserker who is trying to untie the horse’s reins from the tree he’s tethered to. “These creatures do not belong to you, please leave them where they are.”
“No,” the berserker replies simply, so Moon pulls out her daggers and stabs him.
His shout of surprise alerts the rest of the adventurers and Raddak and Loli dash from the hut, already conjuring magical flames that hit the group of intruders. Yaseino, who was sleeping outside the hut because his religion does not allow him any comforts, becomes a flurry of boxing paws and flies at the nearest berserker, who turns reckless and hits him back. Mirik casts Shillelagh and whacks another with her staff and, to everyone’s surprise, the unicorn starts to rear up and attack the other berserkers with its hooves.
When one of the intruders takes a swipe at Gotham, the little death weasel is so incensed that he darts up the creature’s back and digs his claws into its head, looking at Moon who sticks him with her daggers while he’s distracted. Raddak heals the unicorn, which has taken a bit of a beating from the berserkers, and Loli covers him by firing Eldritch Blasts into the fray. Yaseino fist-strikes a berserker who comes running up to him in anger, knocking him out, but that gives one of the others an opening to hit the monk in return. Mirik also gets hit, but she swings her staff and kills her reckless attacker before he can do any more damage.
Finally, silence falls over the adventurers’ camp again. Three of the berserkers lay dead, two are unconscious. Raddak wanders over. Suddenly four of the berserkers lay dead, and one is unconscious. Raddak grins.
While Moon searches the corpses for any gold, Loli casts Speak with Animals and walks over to the unicorn to make sure it’s okay. As she approaches the creature, she feels a presence in her brain and hears a female voice talking to her in Elvish.
“Greetings, small one,” says the unicorn, bowing her head low. “Thank you for aiding me and setting me free. In return, please allow me heal some of your wounds.”
Loli watches gratefully as a wave of healing energy washes over her injured companions. She smiles and whispers a thank you.
“P’raps you can ‘elp us more, if it’s not too much trouble?” she asks. “We’re lookin’ for a dragon mask, an’ a dwarf who’s been seen around Boareskyr Bridge. ‘Ave you seen anythin’ like that at all?”
The unicorn shakes her flowing mane.
“Unfortunately not,” comes the Elvish reply. “I have been held prisoner by the berserkers for a long time now and know not of the things of which you speak. I would just wish to return to my kind.”
“You’re free to go,” she says, and stands watching as the noble beast heads off into the countryside, looking back just once in gratitude.
On the other side of the camp, Raddak casts a spell on the unconscious berserker, healing him only enough to bring him around. Before he realises where he is, the Kobold quickly charms him.
“Hey, you’re awake!”
The berserker looks confused for a moment.
“My mates!” he says. “What ‘appened here? We were just goin’ to steal some ‘orses…”
Raddak fakes shock and horror, then relays the situation in an extremely animated manner.
“Oh, it was terrible! The unicorn slaughtered all our friends, it was a miracle that we managed to save you, to be honest.”
“Bugger,” replies the berserker. “I’ll ‘ave to try an’ get another one now. They’re not easy to find, neither.”
Raddak pats him on the hand.
“Maybe the cultists can help you to get another unicorn?” he says, trying to sound sympathetic. “Do you know what they’re up to, by the way?”
“No, the cultists.”
The berserker laughs and wipes his hands on the leather of his armour.
“I don’t give an eff about no cultists,” he replies. “In fact, it’s marvellous, ‘cause while everyone is distracted by the cultsists, I can catch unicorns without anyone ‘assling me about it.”
“You’re very good at that too,” congratulates Raddak, in his friendliest voice. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a Dwarf while on your unicorn hunts, have you? Short, probably wearing purple.”
The berserker nods.
“Yeah, ‘e was a bastard,” he growls. “I said ‘ello and ‘e said ‘You effin’ berserker’. ‘E was really rude. Saw him over at Boareskyr Bridge. Y’know, the encampment? Wiv all the tents?”
Raddak is already formulating a plan in his head, and he wonders aloud if it would be possible to sneak up to see if Varram is still around. The berserker bursts out laughing as if he considers the little Kobold totally insane.
“You might be able to sneak in, but you’ll die. You can’t sneak up on a town.”
Raddak laughs along with him, then slaps him on the back in a friendly manner as the berserker stands up.
“True! Anyway, you’d better run off now. I think your friends were heading north.”
“Aww, fanks!” the man grins, before turning and immediately collapsing to the ground as Raddak shoots him in the back with his crossbow.
The heroes reach Boareskyr Bridge at about midday the following day. The bridge itself is very impressive, made of black granite and with a huge statue at each end; one of Cyric, and one of Bhaal. These statues commemorate a fight between the two gods, a battle which resulted in Bhaal’s destruction and the poisoning of the Winding Water river in the vicinity of the original bridge on the trade way. They can well believe it too; the water flowing beneath the bridge is murky and black, but the darkness isn’t reflected in the clothes of the numerous people making the crossing. The friends recognise the distinctive dress of various cultures of Faerûn but they don’t see anyone wearing Cult attire, nor do they spot a dwarf wearing purple robes. Raddak sends Ziggy out in front of them and hangs on to Mirik so that he can see through the cat’s senses, and Moon, who is getting a little bit fed up of the Kobold taking all the treasure they find for himself and his own hoard, has an idea. Pulling out her charcoal, she draws a couple of surprised-looking eyebrows on him, knowing that his own senses are currently in Ziggy.
The rogue is still sniggering as the gang make their way into the town. It’s an odd place. Many of the buildings are ruined, but a settlement consisting of large tents and temporary abodes has sprung up in its place, and business appears to be booming. Loli asks a very friendly and colourful passer-by if there’s an inn in town, and he tells her that the best place to go is Bolo’s Tentside Inn, close to the stables where they can leave their horses. They head there straight away.
Simon the Stable Boy, another of the franchise of Simon’s who operate in numerous towns and all love horses, is happy to take their beasts for the rest of the day. Raddak talks him down in price and then pays on behalf of everyone, before casually striking up a conversation.
“So, are there any jobs going around here for famous treasure hunters?” he asks, trying to sound confident.
Simon narrows his eyes.
“You’re treasure hunters?” he replies, his voice loaded with suspicion. “I must say, my surprised friend, you can’t be very good at it if you’re haggling over the price of stabling your horses.”
“We don’t keep the treasure,” Raddak laughs nervously, thinking on his feet. “No, no. We return it. Or donate it to a good cause. That’s how we’ve gained such a noble reputation!”
The stable boy scratches his head, looking as if he may be buying the story, then points across the road towards a very large tent in the centre of town.
“I haven’t heard of anything myself, but your best bet is to ask at Bolo’s Tentside Inn. That place is a hive of activity and anyone looking to hire people would definitely go there first.”
“Thanks!” squeaks Raddak.
The inn is a raucous place with a lively bar, and the friends decide that it would be good to scout surreptitiously for information. While getting themselves some drinks, they overhear a group of men talking about a hero who passed through their town recently, so Loli heads over join them while Moon, Yaseino and Mirik find a table and sit down. Raddak joins them so that he can send Ziggy off to explore whilst transferring his senses to the familiar and, while he does so, Moon draws a fancy moustache onto the Kobold’s snout in charcoal to match his surprised eyebrows.
“Who’d have thought that one so short could have done something so heroic!” shouts one man, thrusting his mug of ale up into the air. Loli sidles over to him.
“’Ere, mister,” she says with a smile. “I’m new in town. What ‘appened, can you tell me the story?”
“Oh, it was brilliant!” laughs the man. “This dwarf fella, all dressed in purple stabbed a much taller snake person because the snake person marched up to him and asked his business. It was fantastic!”
Loli grins broadly and raises her glass of wine solidarity.
“Snake person?” she asks. “What do you mean by snake person?”
The man jerks his mug in a vaguely north-eastern direction, slopping a little of his ale over his loudly-protesting mate.
“Snake person, from up in the Serpent Hills. Sometimes they come down here to spy on people, but they’re not welcome. Sneaky bastards, they are. Snakey bastards too,” he laughs. “That dwarf stabbed a big one, mind. He was here one day and gone the next, but he’s a bloody hero! He’ll be welcome back here any time!”
He turns to cheer with his friends again and the Gnome sneaks away, unseen.
“You might ‘ave somethin’ on your lip,” Loli says to Raddak, returning to the table where her friends are sitting and relaying the details of her conversation with the drunken man. As she talks, the Kobold spots charcoal on the rim of his glass and furiously rubs his face, before asking Yaseino for the name of the person responsible, knowing that he can’t lie. The monk points to Moon, who immediately rolls her eyes.
“I am going to get another drink,” she says. “Maybe the bar-keep has seen a dwarf dressed in purple.”
As she gets up, Raddak touches her shoulder, wishes her good luck and casts Bestow Curse on her, so that whenever she mentions ‘snake people’ she farts loudly. Needless to say, she doesn’t get very far at the bar and returns humiliated to her seat, having learned nothing about the possible location of snake people or Varram the White. Yaseino finds the farting hilarious, though, and it’s a long while before he can stop laughing.
After spending a safe night in Burt’s Beds and getting a good rest, they go to request that Simon the Stable Boy take care of their horses for one more day.
“It’d be my pleasure,” replies the man. “Are you staying in town a bit longer?”
“Actually, we’re hoping to be heroes like the Dwarf,” says Moon, looking nonchalantly at her hands as she speaks. “Do you know the best way to the Serpent Hills?”
Simon grins broadly.
“Oh, the Dwarf was amazing,” he says. “I think word was that him and some of his guards headed up there not long after he killed that snake person, but it’s not a safe place for a bunch of treasure hunters. Still, if you’re determined, you just need to follow the river north, then look for the hills to the northeast with the trees on top.”
The friends thank him and leave, waving their goodbyes.
“Just don’t die,” he calls after them.