The adventurers have ventured into the Mere of Dead Men, following the trail blazed by lizardfolk porters who have been carrying the Cult of the Dragon’s stolen loot to a castle hidden in the swamp. They are accompanied by the well-spoken lizardman Snapjaw, who believes they can liberate his people. After a day of travel, in which they fended off an attack by giant frogs, they have bedded down at a lizardfolk way camp.
In the pre-dawn hours, as Raeyanne is wrapping up the third watch, she spots a dark shape blotting out stars in the sky and moving rapidly towards them. Recalling a similar sight during the blue dragon Lennithon’s attack on Greenest, she hastily wakes the others. As the dragon swoops low over the camp, Hurk takes aim with the Bow of the Golden Hart, but Snapjaw stops him.
“I say, chap, it’s not bad as all that,” the lizardman says in draconic. Beryl translates. “Things aren’t quite as pear-shaped as they might appear.”
The dragon lands on the edge of camp, and they see that it is a black dragon the size of an elephant. Snapjaw immediately prostrates himself before it. Raeyanne recognizes that dragons like to be sucked up to and curtsies, saying “Welcome, great one” in the Common Tongue. The others make similar gestures of respect and Garrett compliments the creature’s horns.
The dragon commends them on their courtesy, and introduces himself as Voaraghamanthar the Black Death, lord of the Mere of Dead Men. He asks who they are and what business they have in his swamp. Garrett offers non-committal answers about being a thief seeking adventure.
Beryl bluntly declares herself to be a cleric of Bahamut, causing Raeyanne to nearly go into conniptions. But Voaraghamanthar bows his head, noting that even dragons who do not follow the path of Bahamut still respect him.
Voaraghamanthar explains that his lovely swamp is being defiled by visitors who have overstayed their welcome—the Cult of the Dragon, who he deduces the party is after. Raeyanne has trouble concealing her relief at this announcement.
The black dragon explains that he granted them the use of Castle Naerytar and the service of his slaves, the lizardfolk, in exchange for the Cult recovering a certain book from the ruins. They have failed to uphold their end of the bargain and he is tired of their excuses. Unfortunately, he cannot act against the Cult without incurring the wrath of their other dragon allies. So he has a proposition for the party.
In exchange for not killing them, he wants the adventurers to retrieve the book, free his lizardmen from their subservience to the bullywugs, and also destroy another artifact in the castle: the farseer of Illusk. It is a contraption with a large brass tube mounted in a dome.
Garrett asks why he wants the device destroyed and he merely says “It irks me.” Raeyanne agrees that it can be uncomfortable to be watched by someone else. The dragon gives her a look.
To aid in rallying the lizardfolk, Voaragamanthar gives Beryl a scale inscribed with his symbol (the draconic letter “v”) and wishes her the best on her journey. After basking in his own noblesse oblige, he flies off.
Too rattled to go back to bed, and with the rosy fingers of dawn creeping across the eastern horizon, they decide to have breakfast. Garrett tells Jamna that there is plenty of frog left. She insists that she’s fine with what she has and quickly puts Hurk between her and the rogue. Larion, meanwhile, is happy to tuck in on the amphibian.
The rest of their journey east is spent traveling by canoe. As they draw near to the castle, they start encountering patrols of bullywugs. They avoid the first one in a bank of fog. But a few hours later, a patrol of 12 frog men spot them. Snapjaw insists that they can pretend to be cultists and should be able to get through fine.
But as the bullywugs draw near, Jamna becomes very agitated at the sight of them. “Cool your tits,” Beryl insists, while Raeyanne and Garrett reassure her that if the frog men eat her, they will cut her out of their bellies. The gnome huddles up against Hurk and manages to stay quiet.
The bullywug leader challenges the party, ignoring Snapjaw’s assurances in broken Common. The frog man insists that the adventurers provide a password to demonstrate their fealty to the Cult. Raeyanne hails Tiamat in draconic and the bullywugs let them through. Once they are past, Snapjaw explains that there is no password and the bullywugs were just hassling them.
A little more than an hour later, they find themselves approaching Castle Naerytar. The fortress is a collection of towers, two or three stories tall, enclosed by a curtain wall and surrounded by a moat save for a single open gate. One of the towers sports a strange wooden dome. Outside the castle are two camps. One is made up of crude huts and is full of lounging bullywugs, while the other consists of longhouses inhabited by lizardfolk.
As the adventurers approach the outskirts of the camp, they are challenged by a squad of lizardmen. Snapjaw assures the guards that these are great warriors who have come to free the Scaly Death Clan from the tyranny of the bullywugs. To reinforce this story, Beryl holds up Voaraghamanthar’s scale and all of the lizardmen (including Snapjaw) immediately kowtow. Once Beryl is persuaded to put the scale away, Snapjaw insists that they are the chosen ones of the black dragon and the time is right to strike.
“Jolly good then,” the patrol leader says in draconic, “we shall notify the Resistance.”
The lizardmen explain that they have been stockpiling weapons in the castle for an uprising, but haven’t had any figures to rally around. For now, they recommend that the party continue to pose as mercenaries for the Cult. Snapjaw leads them up to the castle, warning them about the alligators in the moat.
They are challenged by the bullywug guards, who send a runner to fetch the castle commander. While they wait for the runner to return, the bullywug sergeant asks how long the adventurers are staying. The party freezes, realizing they hadn’t really worked out a backstory. “We’ll be here as long as they need us,” Beryl manages.
The bullywug then prattles on about how awesome the Mere of Dead Men is and tells them how the bullywug leader Pharblex Spattergoo made a deal with the Cult to take over Castle Naerytar once their operations in the region are complete.
The castle commander finally arrives. Dralmorrer Borngray is a one-eyed sun elf with long blond hair and creepy leather armor. A longsword is at his side and a shield is slung over his back. He demands to know who sent the party here.
Garrett and Hurk spin a story about Hurk dueling with Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, which impressed the half-dragon enough to bring them on board. The elf is dismissive of Cyanwrath’s recruitment methods, but accepts them as legit.
Dralmorrer tells them that they are restricted to the first floor of the castle to keep them out of the way of the guests: Wyrmspeaker Rezmir and the Red Wizard Azbara Jos. He then dismissively instructs Snapjaw to find them food and lodgings, and wanders off grumbling about having accommodate humans, dwarves, Half-orcs, gnomes and a “half-breed.”
Snapjaw gives a quick tour of the ground floor. The only working entrance is through the barbican, which opens out onto an open-air causeway vulnerable to ranged attacks from the keep. The causeway leads to the central courtyard, from which they can access several different freestanding towers and the keep.
There is a forge on the ground floor where Dralmorrer has been attempting to teach the lizardmen metallurgy. Also on the ground floor is a stable for giant lizards, a barracks for bullywugs, and a mess hall for the few human cultists in the fort. The mess hall also doubles as a counting station for the loot that the lizardmen haul in from the roadhouse. A chapel to Tiamat rounds out the ground floor features.
The adventurers are given an unused room on the ground floor of one of the towers. They quickly discuss their next move. The lizardfolk will smuggle their weapons stockpile out of the castle that night and the following day, in preparation for an attack the following night. In the meantime, the party will keep up the cultist act and try to scout out the facility. Snapjaw notes that most of the second story areas do not connect with each other, which means that enemies upstairs cannot easily reinforce one another.
Garrett notes that the window in their room overlooks the narrowest section of the moat, though it would still be challenging to jump across. Snapjaw warns them that crocodiles live in the moat and are kept fed by the bullywugs. Garrett then creeps up the stairs into the upper floor of the tower, finding an empty common room and two doors. Not wanting to risk being seen, he retreats downstairs for the time being.