We’re high up on the forested hillside, looking over the lost city of Jhardhemeth. It lies deep in a valley, drowned and half reclaimed by the surrounding swamp.
Crumbling buildings cluster at the edges of a lake. Stone gleams white in the sunlight, backed by the serene blue of water and the variegated greens of lush vegetation. The air is filled with birdsong and the whir of insects.
It looks to be a tranquil resting place for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.
But we know better. Jhardhemeth is not deserted, much as we might wish it were. Down in the submerged city lives a black dragon and its pet giant lizard. Above on the ridge line, several miles around from our camp, is the stronghold of the fearsome Rakshasa tiger people.
Now we have to figure out how to get the Stars and escape without dying.
Skulking in the forest
We arrived here yesterday afternoon, extremely happy that the Rakshasa so far appear to have no idea where we are. After our encounter with them a few days ago in the swamp, we have seen little sign of them.
This is probably thanks to Alix and Squirrel, who successfully located a break in the ancient anti-magic ward that extends along the escarpment on the other side of the ridge. We ascended undetected (we believe) and circled through forest to approach Jhardhemeth’s valley from the side opposite to the Rakshasa stronghold.
In this we were aided by a couple of local furbolgs we met in the forest. It was they who called the city Jhardhemeth (which is neither of the names we had previously heard) and told us of the dragon and its pet. It’s a young adult black dragon, who defeated an older dragon who had been here for thousands of years. Or so the furbolgs told us.
The results of today’s stakeout suggest the Rakshasa do not make a daily habit of descending to the city. We’ve seen glimpses of the dragon’s pet a few times. The dragon itself rose out of the city early this afternoon and we’re currently keeping watch for its return. On the whole, it’s been a rather uneventful day.
Sneaking through the swamp
The dragon returns early in the evening and descends into a round building, shaped like a colosseum. We’ve decided to confront it first, before the Rakshasa. Nightshade is confident she’ll be able to sneak into its lair if we can get close enough. It sounds like a mad plan to me, but we have to do something. Perhaps we can refine this plan as we travel…
Over the next two days we take a circuitous route down into the valley. Eventually the forest gives way to the bog. It’s muddy and wet and hot. Humid. There are giant snakes and other creatures. Not to mention insects. It’s unrelentingly dire. Poor Blaze has ditchd his armour.
We push on into the evening on the second day, driven by the need to find a patch of solid ground for the night. I can sense there’s solid ground on the opposite side of yet another water course, this one 60 feet wide. We’re contemplating how to cross it, when a large multi-legged creature reveals itself on the far bank. It’s purple and has reptilian features. I don’t think this is the dragon’s pet. I think this is something else.
I’m staring at the creature, hoping it will ignore us, since we’re not an immediate threat… when it screeches in fury and breathes out a blast of lightning.
Squirrel curses loudly and flees, gliding atop the swamp with his water-walking ability. Cursing at Squirrel (because I suspect he had something to do with the attack), I’m wading frantically in the opposite direction as well, trying to get out of range. Another lightning blast comes, and then we’re either clear or the creature loses interest.
By the time we find a patch of dry land to camp, it’s late and we’re all exhausted. When a furious Nightshade throws a very nice punch at Squirrel’s face, I’m secretly cheering.
It’s my watch first as usual, and I’m somewhat chilled to observe the distinctive silhouette of the dragon against the bright face of the moon. It looks very much like it’s searching for the source of the disturbance. Oops.
Hiding, watching, waiting
In the morning, we cautiously make our way through the forest to the edge of the river. We’re getting close to the dragon’s lair now and its pet must also be lurking nearby… so we stay put and keep watch all morning.
It’s still fairly early when the dragon appears, dives into the water and surfaces only 100 feet from our position. It’s about 30 feet long. Thankfully it’s oblivious to our presence and launches into the air almost immediately. After a few overhead circles, it flies off.
We breathe out.
We’re still waiting and watching, when we get our first glimpse of the dragon’s pet up close. Without warning, a huge head emerges from the forest to drink in the river about 500 feet away. Its jaw could tear us in two. It’s not a giant lizard at all. It’s a tyrannosaurus. On the same side of the river us us. Just 500 feet away. Oh, god.
Suddenly, I have a great desire to cross the river. But for now we wait, extra quiet, extra vigilant.
Dealing with the dragon
The dragon finally returns not long after midday. It’s carrying something in its talons, and descends not too far away. We think it’s feeding its pet. That’s surely a good thing, right?
Once it’s disappeared into its lair, we decide to brave the river crossing, still hoping to sneak up on the dragon unawares. Utilising our various air and water-walking abilities, we ferry everyone across easily… but almost immediately we’re attacked by not one, but two of the purple multi-legged creatures of last evening. Still, at close range and solid ground, we have a much better chance of defeating them. And we do.
But… gone are our chances of sneaking up on the dragon. The roar of the tyrannosaur rents the air, and the dragon is winging overhead, about to spew acid. Somehow I don’t think hiding among the trees is going to be much help. I have just enough time to cast protection from energy/acid on myself and Fleet.
The dragon breathes out two spumes of acid. Myself and Fleet manage to evade all damage. I don’t know how the others fair. They look mostly okay.
After the second acid bath, the dragon addresses us. What do we want, it demands. (Oh, god. I don’t think this is going to end well.)
But then Nightshade steps forward and greets the dragon. There’s something… some kind of connection between them. A rapport. She tells the dragon that we want to bargain, that we seek an artefact. (Blessed Emrys!)
The dragon guesses that we seek the Stars, and I fear all is lost. But — shockingly, amazingly — the dragon doesn’t immediately smite us down. Instead, Nightshade and the dragon reach an agreement.
The dragon doesn’t like the Stars, it says. In fact, the dragon will give us the Stars if we drive out — or kill — the Rakshasa and return the treasure they have stolen.
Bargain struck, the dragon flies away. It hasn’t killed us. This is a good thing. But, if we kill the Rakshasa, will the dragon honour this bargain? I think we have no other option than to find out.