Their conversation abruptly ending, the black dragon and yuan-ti immediately move into combat positions. The party inflicts little damage before most are engulfed in the dragon’s breath weapon, a line of acid that sears them badly. Faenor manages to elude the acid, rolling in front of the yuan-ti. The snake-like creature makes an odd gesture and Faenor’s heart sinks, a feeling of dread washing over him. His arms and legs contort and shift, absorbing into his torso. He moans as the rest of his body deforms horribly, his mind likewise sinking into a horrid, unescapable fate.
His companions watch in astonishment as their roguish friend slithers away in the swampy water covering the massive room.
The battle goes poorly. Arius does his best to keep the dragon from his friends, trying to parry the blows of the monster’s claws, wings, tail and teeth. The yuan-ti cuts into Tiarmus with its flaming scimitar, hungrily pursuing the monk as he tries to evade the serpent’s blows. It’s everything Talbot can do to keep up with the healing needs of the party, preventing him from doing much else to help with the fight, though he refuses to leave the chamber until all make safe retreat. Pippy flees back into the narrow tunnel after exhausting his spells, crying out to his companions that they must retreat. Tiarmus snatches up the small snake that was once Faenor and flees into the tunnel, crying for Arius to follow.
Steadfast and consumed with the thoughts of a dying Smiggly, Arius strikes the dragon again and moves backward toward the tunnel. The desperate cries of his comrades drown out his guilt as he backtracks. The dragon stands down, content to guard its lair.
The yuan-ti, smaller and more maneuverable, pursues the party down the corridor. Pippy unleashes several magic missiles as Arius blocks the snake from pursing his friends. Another breath weapon from the dragon turns the corridor into a river of acid, burning both the party and the yuan-ti. Hurt and alone, the yuan-ti contorts as Arius rams his halberd through the monster’s chin and up through its skull. The broken and battered party flee back into Undermoutain from their goal in Skullport.
Luckily, Pokey Bitz is open to the idea of letting the party stay and rest at his shop. He entertains them with crude jokes as Talbot heals their wounds. He finds a scroll to polymorph Faenor into a dwarf, a confused and very angry dwarf…
Upon rest the party thanks Pokey and moves off back toward the dragon’s lair and their mission of finding, “the Boss,” in Skullport. This time it would go differently.
Determined and absolutely enraged, the party makes short work of the black dragon in the absence of its yuan-ti comrade. Spell, sword, fist and halberd cut the beast down in a volley of attacks, shaving off scales and skin. Tiarmus pulls a tooth from the beast and adds it to his vest.
“On to Skullport.”
Having just vanquished a black dragon and it’s yuan ti cohort, the party continues onward. After a short period of travel through more Underdark tunnels, the path widens out and the ceiling begins to rise, and a faint light can be viewed ahead. Soon they enter the town proper of Skullport itself.
Having been here once before, the party only knows one bar, the place they found Darinian previously. Since Fuxby told them that the Boss’s cronies like to drink in Skullport, it seems logical to check the taverns first. The innkeeper of the Pick & Lantern is a half-orc with a busted tusk named Blusk. In no mood for games, Arius immediately strides over and slams the butt of his halberd down hard, startling Blusk and making clear that talking would be wise. Never one to put ‘is arse on the line for much of anyone, Blusk eagerly spills the beans about where the Boss’s men go to suds up. It’s a rancid craphole called The Extremely Loose and Readily Available Wench, EL RAW, a seedy and dangerous place on the far end of the Port, down by the Slaver’s Bays. The party catches many an inquisitive and less than friendly gaze as they head down that way, but none stand to oppose them.
Once they enter EL RAW, they have no trouble discerning which of the people inside is one of The Boss’s lackey’s; on the far end of the establishment, on a raised dais, there is a lounge area, and seated there are three duergar, each with his arm around a fawning slave girl and a mug in hand. Again wasting no time and bandying only three or so words, the party storms over to the dais and demands information; the duergar bluster briefly and put hands to weapons, but these guys don’t really want to pick a fight with such a formidable team. They quickly crack under the glower of so many good and powerful adventurers, and tell the party the location of the Boss’s Villa, which requires a brief ride by skiff to an island in the lake just out of Slaver’s Bay.
After a short cruise they party lands on the island, and as small as it is, the villa is clearly visible from the small dock they pull up to. Approaching the gate, the party sees what at first appears to be a pair of large, spiky hedges on either side of it, until….one of them moves! Realizing these are guards, our heroes approach and demand entrance. No duergar, the two Braxat mercenaries sneer and refuse. Seeing no other course, the party draws and combat ensues!
As it turns out, the Braxat would have been wise to simply let them through. Though an early attempt at using their inherent psionics to stun the party seemed like it might put the odds in their favor, Faenor’s devastating back-stab nearly single-handedly fells one of them, which is quickly made short work of by the rest of the party. Seeing the writing on the wall, the other uses its dimension door ability to escape with its life. The party finds a gate key on the dead Braxat, along with some loot, and uses it to open the gate and enter the compound.
Inside the mansion, they head straight down the main corridor inside to a massive set of double doors, which Faenor quickly determines are both locked and trapped. With patience and skill, he disarms the Shriek Shocker on the latch, and deftly unlocks the Dwarven Triple Tumbler locking the twin portals. As the party enters the massive dining chamber, they spot a figure on the far end of the chamber, opposite the dais upon which they stand.
“Don’t take a step further! I know who you are. Do you know me?”
He gets up and walks around to the side of his desk; he has a heavily pronounced limp and drags one of his legs behind him, nearly useless. The figure appears to be dwarven.
“That’s right, I see you remember,” he says, as a look of dawning comprehension begins to creep its way onto Faenor’s face, “I knew you’d come….saw it in a dream. Been waitin. I’m ready; let’s end this.”
Hob reaches into a pouch at his belt, pulls out a large blue mushroom, and stuffs it into his mouth. Seconds later, he begins to grow, and grow, and grow….into a huge Craa’ghoran, an evil earth giant with spikes and fangs pointing every which way. Tearing through the roof before reaching his full size, Hob bellows a war call across the dining chamber, and the battle is on!
The room is long, and the party has to go down a set of stairs either to the right or left to get to the main body where the long feast table runs the length of the hall. Arius and Talbot move down the stairs to the right, while Tiarmus, Pippy and Faenor fan out to the left side of the hall. Not realizing the nature of their foe, the party does not understand their mistake until the giant disappears into the floor, tunneling through the stone as easily as if it were water, and blasting back up right in front of Tiarmus; as though this weren’t bad enough, a massive wall of stone simultaneously erupts forth from the stone floor directly between Arius and Talbot and the rest of the party, smashing the table to match-wood and leaving Pip, Tiarmus and Faenor trapped with Hob on the other side!
Fast on his feet, Tiarmus manages briefly to keep Hob occupied while Pippy lands a direct hit with a lightning bolt, and Faenor attempts to move into position to aid Tiarmus. Casting through the link afforded him by his greater status spell, Talbot shields Tiarmus with a luminous armor, and climbs up and over the wall at the top of the stairs after running back up. Arius, ever direct, simply charges the wall and smashes it a mighty blow with his halberd, nearly cleaving straight through in one round. Hob stays mobile, dropping through the floor again and materializing right behind Pippy, and smashing him once for the trouble. Tiarmus and Faenor charge again, both landing minor blows, and Talbot moves into position just on the other side of the wall, healing through his link; Arius blasts the rest of the way through the wall and steps over, only to have Hob throw up another wall, trapping both him and Talbot between the two walls! Hob moves back over to the other side of the room, which forces Faenor and Tiarmus, as well as Pippy, to move back over to re-engage. Arius climbs the wall this time, easily getting over, while Talbot opts to stay put and attempts to cast hold person on Hob, but fails.
At this point Hob has taken some damage and realizes he needs to stay on the move, so he slides back over to the other side of the room and then uses his stone spikes ability to raise seemingly hundreds of jagged, razor sharp stone barbs and stalagmites form the floor. Every step the party takes is agony, and their movement is drastically slowed. Thinking fast on his feet, Pippy snatches each of his nearby comrades by a sleeve apiece and casts dimension door, neatly circumventing the room full of spikes and planting his friends inside striking distance without provoking any attacks from the giant. A few more furious seconds of combat swing by, but in spite of surprisingly sound tactics, Hob eventually finds himself overmastered by our heroes. Not one to leave this mortal coil without one last act of spite, he smashes Pippy with two devastating blows, clapping his hands down on him with thunderous force, and then gripping down with all his might, rips the poor halfing nearly in two! Screaming like nothing they’ve ever heard, Pippy collapses into a ragged pile of barely breathing bits, just as Arius crashes in to deliver the killing blow. Moving quickly, Talbot rushes to Pippy’s side and brings him back from the brink at what seems the last possible instant.
Taking a moment to gather themselves, and to heal, they find a ring of keys on the body of Hob, which has now returned to its original size and shape. Searching the now ruined far end of the room, they find a corridor winding down and follow it to a stout door. Inside they find what appears to be a treasure room, with a pile of gold and several items. Displayed on the far wall, and obviously intended as the centerpiece of the room, is a beautiful composite bow the likes of which our heroes have never seen. Well, all but one…
Rushing across the room, Faenor halts at the last second and reaches up slowly, with reverence, to remove the bow from the wall. Half again as tall as the dwarf himself, the masterfully crafted longbow appeared to be made of mithral, with sapphire and ruby intricately worked into an intertwining spiral pattern from one end of the bow to the other. It was Rainmaker, his father’s final work and the pinnacle of his craft, finally reunited with its rightful owner.
After pausing a moment to soak in what had just happened, Faenor nods that he’s ready and the party moves through the chamber to the door on the far side. Opening it, they find…
Mirt the Moneylender, reclining easily on a wooden bench, eating a huge turkey leg with a goblet of wine to wash it down.
“I’ve been waiting for you guys….took you long enough! Looks like you’re worthy of a real mission. Good! Glad you passed my test! Now, let’s get out of here shall we? The décor in this pit is depressing.”
After overcoming their initial outrage and shock, the party joins up with Mirt and begins the journey back to his mansion. Along the way, they ply Mirt with a seemingly endless stream of questions. He explains that most of the creatures and circumstances they came across outside the city were easy enough to arrange through agents, but it was trickier to manipulate Dorrk.
“I had to actually be kidnapped you know; all that damage you saw in my mansion was real. They really attacked me, and I really had to put up a good show. They had no idea of course that I manipulated the entire thing. You wouldn’t believe how many people owe me! And yes, this is how I get my jollies these days, don’t judge me.”
After several hours of travel and interrogation, they finally arrive back in Waterdeep. The party decides to head off their own way at this point, and Mirt agrees, but not before saying,
“Thank you for escorting me home, your services are no longer needed for today. However, you should return here in one week, on the night of the half moon, at sundown. There will be a dinner with some very special guests, and you lot will not want to miss out. OH! I nearly forgot, thank you so much for saving me! HA HAHAHAHAH AHA AHHAHA AHAHAHA!!!”
Mirt disappears very quickly, and bewildered, angry, beat up and tired, our brave adventurers move as quickly as their weary bodies will carry them to the Titty and Whistle for some much needed respite. Sensing that much is amiss, Phlagren orders that drinks are on the house for the party and bustles several of his bustiest girls over to the table to serve them.
When they finally get settled, Arius immediately rips into a tirade about how he dislikes and distrusts everyone they work for, and how Mirt is a fat, lying bastard. Taking a somewhat more measured view, Pippy agrees that Mirt’s behavior was less than ideal, but expresses an interest in this dinner he’s planning, and says what everyone is already thinking, which is that surely at least some of the Lords of Waterdeep themselves will likely be there. After all, hadn’t they been getting quite a lot of attention lately? Talbot and Faenor agree; Tiarmus can barely be heard to utter anything other than loud, intermittent inhales as he came up for breath between chugs of beer and moterboating the help.
Regardless, with a week to kill, the party is finally able to set about getting some of their more mundane affairs up to date and in order. Tiarmus finally finished reading the Manual of Health they had found, Arius forged several new works, Talbot did merciful good deeds and Pippy pipped. Indeed, ’twas a fruitful week.
On sundown a week later, they return to Mirt’s mansion. The entire place is lit up with torches, courtyard, stables, everything. Ushers at the gates open the doors and let them into the compound, where they are greeted by the concierge, who snobbily invites them to follow him inside. They are led through the hallway and down a corridor, where the concierge opens a massive mahogany double door and ushers them into an expansive, incredibly opulent dining room. At the head of the table on the far end, several figures are seated:
“Greetings, greetings my friends! So good of you to join us! Please, have a seat hear at the table, the servants were just about to bring the first course!” says Mirt. “You know my guests I trust?” As the party seats themselves, Piergieron speaks up.
“Indeed, greetings and well met young adventurers! As it happens, your doings of late have come to the attention of the Lords of this city, and in particular when you saved Xale of the Starry Glenn from his terrible fate, you earned my thanks. I have yet to give it to you in person, which I wish to rectify immediately; my deepest gratitude my friends! Xale is a true friend of mine for long years, and I feared for him whilst he was missing. Tonight, we have asked Mirt to invite you here so that we may take measure of you. There are dark days ahead for this city, as you lot are undoubtedly well aware, and it is difficult to know who to trust. Your deeds speak for themselves to a great extent, but now we wish to speak with you face to face and learn more of what there is to know of who you are, and why we should trust you. If we are satisfied with what we find, then we may ask much of you in the days ahead; if you rise to those challenges with the same valor and clarity of purpose which you have shown in your efforts thus far, you will find reward and renown beyond your greatest imaginings.”
He pauses for a moment to let his words sink in, then continues,
“How rude of me though, here….drink, eat, relax a bit. We have plenty of time! Mirt tells us you saved him from his captors, tell us the tale!”
The party hesitantly begins to tell the tale, but soon are asking many questions of their own. The Lords insist there will be time, but ask to hear what happened in the party’s own words. Eventually they get the story across, at which point Xale speaks up.
“Indeed, I owe all of you my thanks for saving my life. To this moment, I still have no memory of what happened. The last I recall, I had slain a beast of fire and shadow in the portal room, which attacked me soon after you all went in. Everything after that is blackness.” He shakes his head. “And though no words of mine can begin to express my gratitude, I am left wondering, what brought you all through such peril to find me? It was my impression that none of you were overfond of me. Arius….in your words, tell me, what brought you and your friends through such risk to save me?”
Arius explains that finding Xale was only incidental, and that what he was doing, he did for Smiggly’s memory, because it was what he would have wanted. Xale drops his head, and apologizes sincerely and profusely for his prior arrogance, and misjudgment of the party. Arius does not seem convinced.
Naneatha speaks up, “I wonder, do any of you have any questions for the Lords of Waterdeep? Surely my Lords, we owe them this much, do we not? For saving Xale, uncovering the plot and collusion between Xanathar and Shar, for the….”
Melegost interrups, “Yes, yes, yes woman, you’re right….so, you lot….what would you ask?”
Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be much any of them particularly wants to know, so the Lords move on with their questioning.
At this point, Khelben looks at Pippy and says, “You wizard, nobody ever asked you, what’s your stake in all this?” His voice sounds extremely familiar….it’s Smiggley! Several of our heroes cry out, and a few fire questions, but it becomes clear that Smiggley can only say what he came to say, and no more.
Pippy explains that he was asked by Xale to join the party, and that he has since created a purpose for himself as he goes along. He sees the need for his services and is happy to oblige, and along the way has forged the bonds of brotherhood with his fellow members of the party. Smiggley appears to be satisfied with this, and Khelben returns to his original affect, seeming a bit bemused but otherwise none the worse for wear.
Next, Piergiron looks at Arius. “Arius Arinion, blacksmith’s apprentice, and warrior of great courage, there is a cloud over your heart. You have seen some of the darkness this world has to offer, and it has not handled you kindly. I see in you a recent….break, shall we say, with your previous ideology. Do you believe that your cause is still just, or are the means which you now find yourself willing to employ merely rationalizations for your desire to lash out at a world which has brought you so much pain?”
Arius’s eyes go wide and his jaw hits the floor, working wordlessly for a few moments as he fumbles briefly for an answer. Soon, his shoulders slumping and his head falling to his chest, he shakes his head and says, “I don’t know,” as a groan of deepest anguish escapes his great chest and tears begin to fall from the granite ledges of his cheekbones. Not one to press, Piergiron sits back in his chair and steeples his fingers, appearing thoughtful.
Next, Mirt clears his throat and raises his glass.
“And may I propose a toast, to Hob, without whose paranoia we might not all be sitting here together having this merry feast. May he forever rot in whichever hell he’s earned!”
After a cheer and some drinks, he goes on,
“Faenor, tell me….how does revenge taste? When your family was alive, you did everything you could to be different from them. They honed their skills with blade and hammer, while you learned the inner workings of locks and back alleys. Now, in pursuit of vengeance for their loss, you have taken up armor and blade in the manner of your father and brothers. Was it worth it, losing yourself along with your family?”
Faenor takes a moment before answering, at which time he agrees that indeed he has lost his original way somewhat, but that he believes his family would still be proud of who he is, because in doing so he has found a new path of honor and purpose which he believes he has given his all to. What more could anyone ask? Chuckling uncomfortably to himself, Mirt sits back and nods to Faenor, indicating he is satisfied.
Next, Melegost looks up at Tiarmus. For a moment, he merely stares across the table, looking directly into Tiarmus’s eyes, with a small smile. Then, he turns to Talbot.
“So Mercy, it seems your short time with these fellows has done much for you. Already you…glow, with health and vigor. Like some kind of….adventurer. What happened to your studies? You were beginning to garner no small amount of renown along the Sword Coast as the definitive source of all things Celestial. Will you return to your studies, or do you intend to continue with these others?”
Talbot answers forthrightly, explaining that his time of study was spent looking for what he has now found in the bonds of blood and brotherhood forged with his friends. So indeed, he will be remaining with the party, and will go where they go. Melegost stands up and flies into a tirade, tongue-lashing Talbot in front of the gathered assemblage, calling him out on brazenly ignoring his original orders, flagrantly flouting the rules and hierarchy of the church, and ignoring even the direct orders of the head of the church itself. Talbot jumps to his fight and fires right back, slamming Melegost for putting no thought into his appointment to that task, and for asking him to do something which goes directly against his ethics and character. Further, he presses, Mystra herself is in agreement with the path he is on, and next to that, what authority is Melegost? Sputtering and utterly enraged, Melegost draws up as if to say more. However, Piergieron and the other Lords intervene and insist that Melegost excuse himself from the otherwise polite assemblage. Muttering curses and promising future calamity, Melegost flies form the room like a murder of crows. With much clearing of throats and washing down of wine, the evening continues on.
Lastly, Naneatha looks up at Tiarmus.
“Tiarmus, son of the sea….Smiggley is not the only friend you’ve lost. Somehow, the small act of evil that led to the deaths of your merfolk friends Baleaena and Caeruleus has be lost in the tidal wave of momentous and fell events, but it seems as though everything is connected as well. Your heart is pulled in two…the sea calls you ever back, and yet you seem now to be fated in a different direction. Smiggley’s murder is still at large, and you may play a key role in the salvation of Waterdeep itself. What do you intend to do in the coming days, and do you feel that what you do is in honor or betrayal of the memory of your fallen comrades?”
In an incredibly rare display of give-a-shit, Tiarmus composes himself and launches into a jaw-droppingly eloquent and meticulously thought-out explanation of how in doing what he’s doing. He is advancing himself and the greater good to a point where he may one day have the influence to stand in present company and ask the question he then asks: If he continues as a member of this party, which he does indeed wish strongly to do, will he be given a voice, title, and influence as an Ambassador of Waterdeep’s Ocean-dwelling folk? Specifically, those merfolk and other people of the sea who do commerce with the city through its ports, and many of whom reside there.
Many smiles greet this request, and Piergieron agrees to it nearly without hesitation; indeed, it seems a perfect segue into what he has to say next:
“I am well satisfied with all that I have seen and heard here, as I see are all the other Lords here gathered; Melegost was here merely as an observer and has no say in this matter. So, I have one last question for all of you: Will you swear fealty, here and now, to the Lords and the City of Waterdeep? I understand that up until now you have operated essentially as freelancers, and perhaps you may prefer to keep it that way. I am not opposed to negotiating an arrangement with your party similar to that which we have with the Grey Hands….you would essentially have full autonomy in most cases and at most times, and you may continue to liaise with Larian Shadowfriend if you wish. I would have it known that I for one hope we may look forward to your service, and believe that indeed your reputations are confirmed and honorable! I would have you in the employ of the city. What say you all?”
With glances around the table and the dawning realization that the ranks of Waterdeep’s Champions had just grown by five, our heroes look as one to the open Lord of the City and say,
“Aye my Lord, so swear we all!”