As the revived cult member slips once more back into the peacefulness of death, Loli squints across the room with a quizzical look dominating her Gnomish features.
“There are drag marks ‘ere,” she whispers. “Drag marks in blood an’ footprints, an’ they lead to that set of double doors over there.”
Her friends all stand and look in the direction she’s pointing, and Moon drops her cult disguise as she steps forward to slowly push the doors open, revealing a room beyond that’s lit by braziers and decorated with exquisite frescoes. In the centre, a stone sarcophagus sits on a stepped dais and, when the Tabaxi walks towards it, a deep, clear voice sounds from within the coffin.
“You approach Diderius in repose. I know what you seek. Yuan-ti have taken the one called Varram beyond their portal in the northern wall. Be prepared, for I shall open the way to peril.”
“Peril?” gulps Loli as the rest of the adventurers tiptoe into the room. “Per’aps we should…”
The Gnome is cut off by the sound of a door opening in the wall opposite, and the group are immediately on their guard when they realise that a pack of Lizardfolk is lurking in the tunnel beyond.
As Moon ducks behind the sarcophagus, Mirik raises her hand and starts to walk towards her people, but they merely turn and hiss, drawing their weapons and pointing them at the druid.
“Well, how rude!” she exclaims, as one of Moon’s arrows zips past her ear to nail the nearest creature. Loli and Yaseino appear alongside her, and together the three launch into attacks against the four remaining Lizardfolk. Moon runs up to join them, killing another along the way, as Raddak launches firebolts from back inside the sarcophagus room.
“They’ve got javelins!” says Mirik, narrowly avoiding a hit from one. “I’d quite like one of those!”
“Just pick one up!” replies Yaseino, as he punches one of the Lizardfolk, then elbows another, before racing up the corridor after a cowardly one who has decided to leg it.
As Moon skids around the turn in the corridor and fires an arrow at the escaping one, Loli kills another with her Eldritch Blasts, Mirik hits the last one, and Raddak swoops in with a Sacred Flame to finish it off.
Together, the friends edge their way up cautiously up a set of stairs, following in Yaseino’s footsteps. Ahead of them, the monk arrives at a stone bridge spanning a lethal-looking drop; the bridge is slick with slime beneath the water that drips continuously from the rock ceiling above. Undeterred, Yaseino doesn’t even slow down. As the fleeing creature he’s chasing reaches one of its cohorts, the Jackrabbit leaps as far as he can, lands precariously, regains his footing and leaps again, killing the escapee and stunning the new arrival. Raddak flies in and, holding at a safe distance, he invokes duplicity, causing an illusory version of himself to appear on the other side of the bridge.
“Come on, bring it, mo’fo’s!” the duplicate yells as more Lizardfolk, along with a few Yuan-Ti, appear on the stairs there.
While Loli herds Moon and Mirik together so that she can cast Fly on them all to get them safely across the chasm, they deftly avoid crossbow bolts that whizz through the air towards them. On the other side of the bridge, Yaseino catches a bolt and fires it back at the creature who shot it, before hitting another with a Fist of Unbroken Air that sends it crashing through Raddak’s double and into the Yuan-Ti that was standing behind it. The Yuan-Ti collects itself, grinning smugly at its discovery of the illusion, then turns instead to fire a crossbow at Moon, Mirik and Loli, who are now flying clumsily towards it. The duplicate is not impressed.
“Oh ho, ignore me, would you?” it yells, as Raddak casts Burning Hands through it, unleashing a cone of flame towards the Yuan-Ti and one of its friends.
Moon lands in front of one of the snake creatures on the other side of the chasm, swiping at it with her dagger and unleashing green flames, while Mirik catches the crossbow bolt of a Yuan-Ti who fires at her, and promptly retaliates with her own magic arrows.
Suddenly, Raddak’s duplicate drops to the floor to grovel, cower and beg in front of the remaining foes, and Yaseino takes advantage of the distraction to strike two of the creatures, killing one and stunning another. Loli crisps a couple more of them with a well-placed fireball, while Moon and Mirik engage in melee and ranged attacks respectively. Raddak fires his crossbow at the last Yuan-Ti from where he’s still hovering over the chasm, then a blast from Loli ends the fight. At the top of the stairs, they find a very quiet corridor where they decide to take a short rest to heal their wounds and patch themselves up a little.
While Moon and Yaseino explore the area to see what’s around them, Loli takes out her Bag of Tricks and reaches inside. She pulls out a fuzzy ball, and when she tosses it to the ground it magically becomes a Giant Goat. Unfortunately, the corridor isn’t nearly wide or tall enough for such an animal, and the Gnome finds herself staring into the face of a rather disgruntled goat that’s squished into a much smaller space than it needs.
“Me-e-e-e-h,” says the goat.
“Oh dear,” replies Loli, sympathetically. “Sorry about that, love,” and with a wave of her hand, she dismisses the grateful creature.
Meanwhile, Yaseino and Moon have discovered a chamber to the south, which looks like a room of worship, and another corridor that almost seems to writhe like a snake as they walk down it. It’s quite an unsettling illusion. Curious about its purpose, they move slowly to the end of it where it drops away in front of them to a depth of about twenty feet, becoming the floor of a large room. The smell is awful.
“Greetingss,” comes a voice from below. “I must apologise for any previous mistreatment you may have ssuffered. We mean you no harm. Please come down and join uss, that we may become friendss.”
This seems like the best idea ever to the two companions and they jump down, only to realise that they are now standing ankle deep in the slime and muck of a Yuan-Ti hatchery, surrounded by swarms of snakes. Three Yuan-Ti Purebloods are advancing on them, and a Yuan-Ti Abomination slithers out of the blackness and grabs Yaseino before he can react. Too late, they both realise that they are the victims of a Suggestion spell, but luckily their friends appear at the top of the precipice to help them out.
Loli Witchbolts the Abomination, then Yaseino escapes the grapple and hits it as well. It tries to grab at him again but the Jackrabbit dodges stealthily out of the way. Moon kills one of the Purebloods and then gets into a fight with another one as the swarm tries to poison her. Mirik sends an Ice Knife across the room, damaging a few of the creatures in one go, and Raddak shoots a Firebolt at the Pureblood who is battling Moon.
Noticing that other adventurers are standing above them, the third Pureblood turns and tries to tempt them into the hatchery as well, but only Loli succumbs, and she’s bloody furious when she descends and realises what’s happened. She pulses the Witchbolt again in anger, making the Yuan-Ti Abomination writhe in pain. Yaseino attacks it again, punching and kicking it with a flurry of quick and powerful blows. Moon kills the Pureblood she was fighting, then lands an attack on the Abomination, killing that too, just as Mirik takes out the last of the Purebloods with her Shillelagh. When Yaseino takes a flying leap across the room and lands a fatal hit on the swarm, all is quiet again. Although still extremely stinky.
After finding pieces of cult members in the hatchery, and investigating two more strange, yet empty, rooms which both appear to be sleeping chambers for Lizardfolk and Yuan-Ti, the friends creep down a corridor that emerges into a huge and important-looking chamber. Giant stone serpents with green flames licking from their open mouths line the east and west wall. At the back, an altar in the shape of a snake’s head dominates the proceedings, because gathered around it are Yuan-Ti Malisons and Purebloods, along with a Yuan-Ti Abomination wearing the robes of a priestess. In front of the altar, beaten and bound, is a dwarf clad in the purple garb of a cult Wyrmspeaker.
“We need to go and get him,” says Moon, quietly. “I could disguise myself as a cult member and…”
“You’ve already seen what they’ve done to the cult,” cuts in Raddak. “I think that would be a very bad idea.”
Moon cocks her head in thought.
“Something else, then? A Yuan-Ti, maybe?”
“There are too many of ‘em in there for us to fight,” whispers Loli, peeking around the corner of the corridor and into the chamber. “I don’t think we could take ‘em all in the state we’re in, not without a proper rest.”
“We could probably go back to one of the other rooms and rest there?” says Raddak.
While they’re discussing it, Moon slips away and walks into the chamber, not wanting to spend any longer in the tomb than necessary. The priestess turns to face her.
“Hello,” the Tabaxi says in greeting. “We have come for the dwarf. Please hand him over.”
Her friends hear her from out in the corridor and sigh heavily, then listen as the Yuan-Ti Abomination answers in a careful yet confident tone.
“Where are your friendss? We know you are not alone.”
Moon points to the hallway and calls out, upon which the rest of the adventurers reluctantly reveal themselves. The priestess eyes them suspiciously, looks towards the semi-conscious Dwarf and then back to the group.
“And why do you want thiss creature?” she says, reaching for Varram and roughly pressing his dragontooth dagger against his throat. “Perhaps I should just kill him instead!”
Moon throws up her hands.
“No, we need him alive!”
“Although we would quite like to kill ‘im ourselves, given that ‘e’s in league with nasty dragon cult,” muses Loli. “But we do need to talk to ‘im first.”
The priestess narrows her eyes.
“He has been trying to buy his freedom with offerings of treasure,” she says. “I will make a deal with you. You leave now, without killing any more of my people, and you can take thiss misserable creature with you. I will warn you though, we have taken hiss ssoul. It will only be returned once you are away from here.”
Loli gives her a suspicious look.
“’Ow far away?”
“Six miles,” the Yuan-Ti replies.
“Deal,” says the warlock and, as the priestess drops the body of the Dwarf to the floor, Moon runs over and picks him up, throwing him over her shoulder and making for a passageway that one of the Yuan-Ti Malisons opens in the south wall.
“Just one more thing,” Loli says, turning back to the priestess in true Columbo style. “What d’you mean, that you’ve taken ‘is soul?”
The snake creature draws herself up to her full height and hisses menacingly.
Back outside in the ruined village, the adventurers decide that they need to take a rest before beginning the journey back to Boareskyr Bridge, so Loli sets up her Tiny Hut in one of the crumbling buildings. Varram has received quite a beating at the hands of the Yuan-Ti and is only semi-conscious, but when Moon feeds him one of her healing potions he comes around and thanks them for rescuing him, before falling into a much easier sleep. The rogue searches him for weapons and leaves his hands tied, just in case.
In the morning, Moon uses a campfire to summon Gotham again. The weasel isn’t too happy about being incinerated by a Bearded Devil but he grumpily follows Moon as she makes her way back to her friends. Loli pulls one of her animals from her Bag of Tricks, hoping for something she can ride, but instead gets a rat that immediately hides from the hungry gaze of Raddak’s Tressym familiar, Ziggy. With their rituals completed and breakfast eaten, they turn their attention to Varram the White.
“So,” says Raddak, drawing himself up to his full height. “Are you going to tell us where the white dragon mask is?”
The Dwarf laughs bitterly.
“We were attacked and did not complete our investigations,” he replies. “I do not know where it is.”
“If that’s the case then the cult won’t be happy with you, will they?” Raddak’s expression turns to one of contempt. “How did you manage to lose something so important? And why are you allied with the Cult of the Dragon at all?”
Varram’s eyes darken and almost seem to glaze over as he speaks.
“Because dragonkind are the most beautiful creatures, and they will rule this world. It is inevitable and, when they take control, they will reward us greatly for our loyalty. We will be given everything we could ever want. Praise Tiamat!”
Mirik gives a huge sigh.
“I think he’s been brainwashed,” she says with resignation in her voice.
“Then maybe we can get into ‘is noggin an’ unwash it,” replies Loli. “Make it really filthy, in fact.”
Varram huffs at the suggestion.
“When Tiamat returns, it is you who will be wiped clean!”
Without warning, Raddak suddenly waves his hands in front of the Wyrmspeaker’s face and speaks in a friendly tone to him.
“Hey,” he says, confidently. “I’m really glad we found you, friend. We need to get you somewhere safe.”
Varram shakes his head in confusion as the Kobold’s charm spell takes effect, then blinks a couple of times before answering.
“Yes, somewhere safe, somewhere away from here. Wait, who are you?”
Moon blurts out that they are the heroes of Waterdeep, and her friends all turn to look at her in exasperation.
“Oh for gods’ sake,” mutters Raddak, as the Dwarf looks down at his wrists.
“Why am I still bound?” he says. “Untie me so that we can leave this place!”
“Ah well, you see, the Yuan-Ti are still watching, and we promised we would keep you restrained until we leave the area,” the Kobold says, thinking on his feet.
“Then let us leave!” insists Varram in frustration.
“But your mission is not yet complete,” argues Raddak. “You still haven’t found the white dragon mask!”
The Dwarf rolls his eyes.
“It is not here, it’s gone – it is at the Well of Dragons with the other Wyrmspeakers. I saw it in the divination pool. I don’t know how it got there after the Zhentarim took it, but it’s definitely there.”
Raddak now understands the message from his goddess, who told him that the mask was at the well, and that there is no point in going back into the tomb to check the well they’d previously found there.
“Wait, though,” says Varram, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. “You should know this if you are my friends. Who do you work for?”
The Kobold opens his mouth to answer but suddenly hears another voice inside his head, a beautiful, musical, female voice.
“Raddak, are you there?”
“I have a call coming in on the other line,” the Kobold says, turning to the Dwarf. “Please hold.” He stands and walks away to a space away from everyone else, where his conversation cannot be overheard.
“Who is this, and how did you get my number?”
The voice is melodic and entrancing, and he instantly trusts the lady who is speaking.
“I am Laeral Silverhand, from the Council of Waterdeep. Where are you?”
“In the Serpent Hills,” Raddak replies. “We have captured a Wyrmspeaker.”
There is a brief pause.
“This is good news,” Laeral says, before urgency creeps into her voice. “Come to Boareskyr Bridge and I will send someone to meet you. We must bring you back to the Council.”
The cleric confirms the plan and returns to the camp where his friends are waiting.
“Sorry about that,” he tells Varram. “In answer to your question, we were sent to retrieve you by Talis the White. She’s a bit pissed off that you both have the same title, to be honest.” He then turns to the group.
“We need to get to Boareskyr Bridge as soon as we can,” he says.
With everything packed up and no sign of imminent danger, the group sets off towards the encampment at a brisk pace. When they are around a mile out, Loli edges up alongside the Dwarf and looks him over.
“’Ere, Varram,” she says in a hushed voice so as not to attract any attention from possible predators. “The Yuan-Ti said they’d taken your soul.”
He looks surprised.
“I don’t feel soulless,” he replies, with a worried look in his eyes.
“Hmm, I guess we’ll see what ‘appens when we get to about six miles out then, eh?” teases Loli, and marches off to join Mirik, who’s currently leading the way.
It’s not long afterwards that Raddak’s charm spell wears off and the Dwarf realises what has happened. He’s extremely unimpressed, to the point that he starts shouting and raising hell, so Moon tackles him and holds him down while Raddak gags him with a piece of cloth from his backpack. There’s a noise from the jungle, and Mirik glimpses the movement of something large accompanied by the flash of a huge crustacean-esque claw. Worried about being detected and not wanting to get into a fight when they have a prisoner in tow, Raddak casts Pass Without Trace and the group sneaks silently away and out of danger.
Evening falls, and the adventurers make camp for the night. Loli is getting fed up with Varram the White as he pleads with her to remove his gag.
“I think we should just kill ‘im,” she grumbles, as she opens her ritual book to get the Tiny Hut conjured. Moon disagrees.
“We cannot kill him when he can give us valuable information about the cult. We are Harpers after all, we are in the business of gaining information!”
Everyone groans, and Moon is once again told off for letting things slip in front of the Dwarf. He shows that he’s heard but continues trying to persuade Loli to take off the gag by giving her puppy-dog eyes. She waves her hand dismissively and tells him to just put up with it.
The next morning, though, the Gnome relents and removes the gag after making Varram promise on Tiamat’s life that he won’t do anything to jeopardise their safety. He does so and she shoves some breakfast into his face, but he frowns at her as he can still use his hands to eat, even though his wrists remain bound. Loli grins as she pulls a Lion from her Bag of Tricks.
“So how did you come to be an acolyte of dragons? she asks, hopping onto the creature’s back as the group gets ready for another day of travel.
“When I was young, my village was attacked by a dragon. My father was brave and fought for us but, even so, the dragon swallowed him whole. That day I saw its power, the power it held over life and death. I went back to my house, found the most valuable plate my family owned and brought it to the creature, leaving it as an offering at its feet. It took the plate and spared my life. I have loved dragons ever since, and have come to realise that my father was an arsehole for attacking it.”
“All dragons want is treasure and power,” Loli replies, shaking her head.
“And who doesn’t, Goblin?” laughs Varram, whereupon Loli’s lion cuffs him around the head with its huge paw.
Raddak digs in his pack and trots over to the Dwarf, offering him a hand-drawn pamphlet.
“I think you may have chosen badly,” he says. “You don’t want to be following these arsehole dragons like Tiamat. Have you thought about following Aasterinian, or one of the good dragons?”
Varram glowers at him, leaving the pamphlet untouched, and marches on ahead.