It was an hour or two before dawn and Bramble had the last watch. Tomorrow would be the fifty-first day since the expedition left Port Nyanzaru. They were encamped within the ruined walls of the crumbling gatehouse. Trees grew within the courtyard walls. The well in the center of the courtyard was long dry and filled with grass and vines. The two saurian behemoths drowsed on the far side of the courtyard. The fat raindrops created a constant patter on the canvas tents in which the others slept.
Bramble noticed a snake slithering through the grass. Then another. Then two more. Something wasn't right. He stood and shouted, "Alarm! Alarm! Wake up! Somebody wake up Zeynap!"
The ancient shape-changing serpent-men known as nagina were upon them!
CHAPTER 22, "FANE OF THE NIGHT SERPENT"
- Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
- Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
- Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
- Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
- Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
- Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger.
- Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
- Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth.
Eku, sleeping on the ground in the rain, was the first awake. She transformed herself into a mongoose and rushed a snake on the left flank. Bramble moved to the right flank while Zeynap and Argent emerged from their tents. Zeynap immediately began zapping snakes on the right flank with rainbow bolts of magical energy. Each of the three snakes was immediately transformed back into the form of a nagina warrior - a creature with a human body and the head of a cobra! They were armed with long-bows.
An unseen snake coiled around Zeynap's leg and bit the warlock in the shin. Zeynap fell to the venomous bite. Bramble summoned the healing spirit of the wolf which rendered aid to Zeynap and Argent who had been similarly stricken by an unseen serpent.
Both snakes were quickly dispatched before transforming back into nagina warriors! The nagina warriors spun their khopeshes and engaged Argent and Zeynap in close combat!
Eku's mongoose killed the snake causing it to transform into a nagina. Eku abandoned her mongoose form and resumed her natural form as a couatl. Argent meanwhile was supporting his comrades with prayers of protection and healing.
Bramble transformed into a gargantuan fifty-foot boa constrictor and coiled around one of nagina to the right. Zeynap fell under the onslaught of the attackers but was revived by Argent.
Suddenly Xoc-Wik emerged from his brain fever and burst from his tent, bow drawn. He begain picking off nagina at range, moving around behind the tents. One heavily wounded serpent-man was pushed away by Zeynap's blast. The nagina turned and fled. The serpent man made it through the outer gate and was escaping into the dark. Xoc-Wik stepped through the gate and loosed an arrow, killing the fleeing serpent-man at a range of nearly a hundred feet. Another serpent-man fled through the inner gate. Xoc-Wik turned and launched an arrow in a high arc, striking the serpent-man in the back and killing him.
The serpent-men were all killed and the camp was secure. The party regrouped around the campfire.
Argent began coughing. The coughing became hacking. Argent then collapsed to his knees and began wretching and heaving. He regurgitated the stew he had taken from Bag-of-Nails the day before. It had been poisoned! He was feeling better but the poisoned stew took its toll. Argent decided to rest for the remaining hour before dawn.
Unseen to the party, a dark figure rose from a crouch atop the wall of the courtyard. Its feline eyes narrowed. Argent had survived his poisoned stew. Bag-of-Nails turned and disappeared into the rain and darkness.
DM Note- Yeah, the poison was supposed to strike at midnight. I had big notes written all over everything to remind me to resolve the poison BEFORE the ambush. I forgot anyway. Luckily I remembered immediately after the fight and it made for a good scene anyway. Bag-of-Nails made a great Stealth roll and no one saw him in the distance but I described the scene of Bag-of-Nails rising and disappearing into the pre-dawn darkness anyway because it was so cinematic. The players really appreciated it.
Bag-of-Nails Strikes Again!
The night rains ended and the sun rose over the eastern mountains illuminating the mist covering western portion of hte city. The party geared up for a new excursion into the city. They retraced their steps from the previous day, skirting the lake of lava and crossing the river on the fallen tree.
As they crossed the fallen log, a poisoned arrow flew through the air and struck Argent! Zeynap saw Bag-of-Nails leaping to another rooftop for better position. Zeynap ran across to the shore but lost track of the b'alam hunter. A cackling old voice echoed through the abandoned city, "Did I get him?"
"Yes!" replied Zeynap, "But he's not dead!"
"Gah!" came the unseen reply, "I'll try again later!" The feline assassin then fled the scene.
DM Note- the players joked that as they explored the city they would find little bowls of stew left out with a note that said "Free stew!" every few blocks.
A Token Resistance
The party eschewed the elevated boulevard and traveled with stealth beneath the tree canopy. They reached the entrance to the circular inner wall without incident. As they passed through the arched gate they encountered two nagina archers who were guarding the entrance. Bramble, Argent, and Eku took cover behend the wall while Zeynap and Xoc-Wik eliminated the archers from range. They found not other guards and continued to the tunnel entrance they had found the previous day. Apparently the nagina believed their ambush would take care of the party so no further guard was necessary.
The Bronze Doors
The party entered the descending tunnel that led under the central tower. The tunnel was wide enough for a four-legged behemoth and cart. The tunnel ended at a pair of heavy bronze doors. The doors were embossed with a bas relief of a circular snake devouring its own tail - the symbol of Jivantaka the Destroyer!
There was a closed peep-hole at head level and small circular holes along the the base of the doors. The doors could be neither pushed nor pulled. Only when the Bramble, Argent, Zeynap, and Xoc-Wik all pulled at the doors in unison was there the sound of a chain breaking followed by the doors sliding open on runners.
Inside the door was a nagina warrior and four nagina degenerates! The nagina warrior hissed orders at his degenerate underlings. They immediately rushed forward and removed four grates covering a wide pit just inside the doorway. The pit was as wide as the corridor, five feet across, ten feet deep, and filled with live snakes! The degenerates then formed a line along the pit to prevent anyone from jumping across.
Xoc-Wik loosed arrows while Zeynap created a magical flaming sphere behind the degenerates. The degenerates dispersed to escape the flame and retreated from the side of the pit, allowing Argent to leap across the pit and engage the degenerates in close battle!
The nagina warrior attempted to escape down a side passage and sound the alarm but was dispatched by Xoc-Wik's arrows before he could succeed. The remaining nagina degenerates were soon defeated and the party made its way safely across the defensive pit.
DM Note- Technically, the PCs should not be able to force open those doors. The inability to force them open is meant to force the players to choose disguise or deception to gain entry. However, my players would never give up so I just adapted the rules for forcing open portcullises. Besides, Bramble or Eku could have turned into a snake, slithered in, and opened the door anyway, so the net result would have been the same.
The Hall of War
The passage narrowed to ten feet wide before opening into a sixty foot by eighty foot room supported by four columns. A large cage containing a three-horn occupied the corner immediately to the right. Carts were stored in the corner to the left. A large statue of a coiled serpent was located atop a stone base in the center of the room. Two alcoves were visible in the dim green light along the right wall.
Four nagina degenerates, having heard the battle in the entrance, were prepared. Two of the degenerates held leashes attached to two squat six-legged reptiles with glowing eyes. They were located at the front of the group awaiting the arrival of the party. The other degenerates, as well as their robed human-looking master, stood warily behind the reptiles.
Bramble immediately summoned two large ferocious bears to form a defensive line in front of the reptiles. The bears fought with the reptiles while Zeynap moved his flaming sphere towards the rear. The human master retreated behind the cover of the statue. The human shouted orders as he plucked small gelatinous eggs out of a sack. He ate the soft eggs like a snack, dribbling long trails of slime down his pointed chin from his lipless mouth.
The degenerates dispersed to avoid the flame. Zeynap cast a spell of shattering which not only injured several of the degenerates, it destroyed the statue! The robed human was suddenly without cover and facing the demise of his degenerate guards. The escaped down a passage to the left.
DM Note - Zeynap's player was so proud he was able to cast Shatter on something inanimate!
It soon became obvious that the reptiles possessed the magical ability to turn their opponents into stone! The bears were able to withstand this effect long enough to rend the reptiles and advance. The bears were soon able to destroy the remaining degenerates and the room was clear.
DM Note - Bramble's player called the bear strategy "Wall of Bears". It was the second fight he had cast "Wall of Bears" and he noted that it was very effective! It not only kept the basilisks from getting any closer, the bears kicked out a lot of damage!
Suddenly the entire complex echoed with the sound of two loud peals from a large gong. The alarm had been sounded. The complex was on alert!
To Be Continued!