Showing Your Colors: The Trouble with Tiamat is

Having raided the vault, they find themselves stuck in the baths with a captive…

Footsteps grow increasingly loud and shouts more distinct until eventually, all four of them, plus the hostage, can hear them marching down the stairs. Hearing incoming soldiers start to spread out and search, they release their captive, the recruiter, magically disguised to confuse the search teams. Seeing no straightforward way out, they call on a favor from their favorite devil, who reveals a secret passage behind the bath fountain as well as creates a magical distraction to cover their tracks through it. Taking the long walk down the narrow, unlit hewn path, they emerge from another secret door into a fancy manor. Hearing others moving about in the house and the distant but still audible alarms of the town, they take the first exterior door they find to flee. This large manor near the edge of town has plenty of foliage to hide in on its grounds and the proximity with the town wall lets them easily flee the kicked anthill that Moontown is quickly becoming.

They return to Bogoreka to make a bunch of sales of loot from Moontown and purchase new equipment, while learning new spells and techniques. With some downtime, Ariel and Rila focus on doing research on the next task until the group gets the results of the Blue Mystery. Dissonant Whispers and Weave both scored full points. Great news, except that this pushes them to the top spot in the overall rankings and paints a large target on their back. On returning to their rooms, each of them finds a threatening letter waiting for them, “You’ll meet us in the alleyway where you stole it, or we’ll reveal what we know and get you kicked out of the Showing of Colors.”

Deciding to ignore the letter, which is clearly a trap and a threat without teeth, the adventurers instead hash out their plan to attack a Tiamat temple. Their plan is to use a combination of dimensional magic items in quick succession to loot and despoil the ritual of tribute occurring in a week’s time. A pair of linked magical cabinets will have one end in a secure location and the other will ride in their pocket plane. Once the second cabinet is in place, they can steal all the loot then reclaim the cabinet and teleport out by magical scroll. Their research on the nearest Tiamat temple locations takes them to libraries across the five campuses and finally to Bogoreka, where they follow a rumor of an old, abandoned dragon lair thought to be a staging point for Tiamat’s flunkies. 

Failing to show up at the threatened time and place, next morning posters appear around campus blaming the Dissonant Whisperers for putting the campus at risk as well as implying impropriety as the source of their high Showing of Colors ranking. As they finish breakfast and are discussing how to respond, they are each called in to talk with their advisors about the issue. Most of their schools do not care, but a Warfrost alum is pressing the issue with their influence on the advisory board. Warfrost is taking things the most seriously, so Tormenoth must produce a lie to Professor Zap and the campus lawyer sitting in on their meeting. Tormenoth mentions a possible curse on an iron-bones amulet they found on a recent adventure, not sure if Zap will buy it, but his advisor does not press the issue. The advisory board is unsure why the Dissonant Whisperers are inscrutable to scrying as a group, but the lawyer is mollified by the amulet and will have it investigated. The rumors by themselves would have been ignored, it is revealed, but with their risk mitigation staff unable to perform even basic Weal/Woe divination spells on the group, it was decided to open a preliminary investigation. Zap winks and scratches the amulet when the lawyer steps out of the room to respond to a wandering colleague’s question. He leans heavily on the arm of his desk chair to lean close and whisper to Tormenoth, deliberately creaking the cushioned support to obscure the words, “I’m worried about a mysterious alumnus I’ve never heard of coming out of the woodwork over this, so let’s ensure that the amulet you get back is the same one we send.” Tormenoth leaves the office, one magic item poorer but glad to have dodged more serious interrogation. Rila is nearly congratulated by a busy Thirty-Claw, happy to see her pissing off people enough to try and take her out of the Showing of Colors with red tape, but he relates that P&W does not sense any dangerous magic on the group. Ariel and Leon’s advisors barely talk to them, waving off the accusation with rolled eyes and a single page of paperwork each stating that the rumors are untrue and spurious. “There isn’t anything to this accusation, whoever’s behind it has enough pull to get it looked at, but that’s it and the Dean isn’t happy about being pushed.” is all their two harried advisors have to say about the situation.

Meeting up again, with Tormenoth relaying his loss and the mention of some Warfrost alum, they get back to their plan. They note in passing that based on the description of the alum, their number one suspect is Beithir taking another shot at them or someone powerful trying to help a competitor. There is plenty of time to bandy theories about as they book a ship for passage across the inland seas from Bogoreka to a small, dying village named Oldport. Rumors here swirl about what few travelers, prospectors, and merchants come here being accosted by kobolds in the nearby hills and mountains. Heading right into the rumored area of danger, the group is wary, using stealth and Druidic magic to disguise their passing. When they discover kobold tracks into the mountains, leading right to an old draconian cave entrance. Setting up to scope the place out, a few locals are psyching themselves up to open the carved stone doors in the shape of a snarling dragon’s jaws. Seeing these yokels, the group decided in whispered tones to not let these idiots spoil their element of surprise by getting themselves killed on whatever is inside. Illusory magic cantrips and some creativity makes the dragon’s jaws appear to threaten the young men, getting them to flee. Inside the first door, Rila, sneaking and in spider form finds a distressed donkey still tied to an empty cart and a second set of doors. She frees the poor beast by chewing the rope apart.

Peeking beyond by cracking open the doorway, she finds a central hallway filled with traps, doorways branching off to the left and right both nearby and at the other end of the hallway. A Dragonborn champion guards the central chamber beyond the open archway at the end of the hall. She returns to give the reconnaissance to the group. All of them were hoping it would be a simple matter of sneaking past a handful of guards, not traps: these traps are a killing floor of spikes, statues swinging scythes, poison darts, necromantic gouts of energy, and more cycling through an interlocking sequence along the entire hallway. The offshoot hallways are starting to look attractive compared to trying to disarm or evade the multitude of mechanical menaces.

When they enter, the champion in the shrine room calls them out as worshippers to offer tribute. Ariel plays into this notion, claiming to have a great deal of offerings to present but he challenges them to prove their worthiness to do so. “The weak must suffer what they must and the strong shall do as they wish.” He calls up a five-color barrier of shimmering magic to block the doorway to the large shrine room, stating he won’t lower it until they defeat five challenges in this old lair. If they die, he will get to take their stuff and tribute it himself to their eternal mistress. If they flee, Tiamat does not look kindly upon cowardly servants. Ariel retorts that they might do the same to him to get a better name for themselves with Tiamat, but he laughs off the challenge to return to his prayers. 

They decide the traps are not worth trying to disarm or dodge when there are other options, choosing to head right instead. A smoldering room with a floor of coals and some scattered charred wood boards is surrounded by glowing glyphs that immediately slam into the minds of the group. Leon and Tormenoth have their minds spun around by the confusion effects but Ariel and Rila can keep them safe from the coals as they mostly stand around dazed from its magic, avoiding the worst of the madness a confusion spell can bring. Not eager to let the glyphs retry their fell magic, the group blasts the glyphs on the walls to destabilize the spells. They try setting up the boards to cross the coals safely, but they keep getting knocked around by magic forces, luckily the confusion effects wear off on the two and they all cross safely to the next room. 

Beyond the slightly charred door is a room with a chess puzzle, barred door, and a dead corpse leaning on the white rook. Trying the pieces, their skin scores and abrades itself when they move a piece. By pooling their intellect and spreading around who makes each move, they manage to trap the opposite king for checkmate without wounding anyone too badly. As the black king falls, so too does the black crossbar.

A short marble lined hallway seems undisturbed with the thick layer of dust coating everything, but when Rila moves to open the opposite doors, blocks from the ceiling fall. Badly hurt, the group decides to drink down potions before pressing on, moving quickly as the blocks begin to disintegrate and reform above. In the large room beyond is a dance hall. Music begins to play as soon as Leon steps into the room and a chandelier glows with eerie light. Along with furniture along the edges of the room are clay statues shaped like dragonborn in fancy outfits. The clay statues begin to dance to the music on the dancefloor. Looking around the room, the group sees the dancefloor, a door leading back towards the main trap hallway, and a dark stone door covered in green runes and symbols. Quick thinking by Tormenoth and Ariel has them instruct the group on formal dance steps, which the statues take in stride as they all move across the hall to the tune. While dancing they postulate on the large stone door’s riddle. After completing a few dances, Rila risks it by stepping away from the dance floor to thoroughly inspect the door, which the statues ignore. With a closer look at the door, it describes a changing moon and lunar cycles that leads them to unlock the center dial with various shapes around a central circle. They decode the symbols below the dial to interpret the riddle about a shifting king and his desired gifts. Understanding the riddle, they turn the dial to the phases of the moon, lighting up more portions of the door and opening the final part of the riddle as arcane symbols at the bottom glow. Rotating the dial further allows them to correlate the dial symbols with the arcane ones, using the riddle to figure out what dial combinations they need to put in and in what order. It takes a few tries but the door finally unlocks.

https://imgur.com/t/puzzle/sIrdDRi is the source of the puzzle, but I went a little rogue to design my own solution. The first part of the decoded riddle indicates the players should set the dial to phases of the moon. That lights up the bottom semi-circle of runes when their associated entry is lined up on the dial along with a floating bit of text naming that symbol or symbols (some dial combinations can trigger multiple runes at the same time. From left to right, I decided the runes are Staff, Crown, Sun, Void, Moon, Chaos, Stars, Change.
Sun = Full “spikes” lined up around center circle, Stars = Four Pointed Star, Moon = Phased Moon, Crown = Crown, Staff = Staff/Scepter thing, Chaos = No other symbol is lined up, Void = Concentric Circles, Change = Dial in motion for at least one full rotation without stopping
Using these discovered runes, the Last paragraph hints at what must be dialed. First is void, last is the stars (wishing upon a star). The remaining two are decoded by deduction: Don’t give him a crown, he’s already king, and he is the moon so can’t be given that as a gift. The light of the sun can’t be his per the riddle, so no sun. He already is master of change so giving him something he already owns would be a terrible gift. 
-Following the order of the runes at the bottom from left to right, Void, then Chaos, then Stars, then Staff. There isn’t anything preventing them from retrying, but the doors won’t unlock until those four are put in in that order.

In white text on white background below is the decoded riddle, to avoid spoilers if you want to try it out yourself. I did contact the original puzzle maker, but the symbols are actually the runes for the D&D schools of magic, something I couldn’t find in any of the books but is in use on D&D beyond. I still wasn’t sure what schools of magic were intended to solve the riddle even with the hint, thus I reworked the puzzle to different ends.

I am the master and ruler
of all of the shapeshifters
I have only one form
yet I change shapes
and with my power and supremacy
I make the beasts awaken.
In the kingdom of light,
My power is considered forbidden,
And yet I am in the light
As I am in the dark.
But remain forever hidden.
I am a pale king
With endless servants
And kingdom so vast and dark,
In ballads of magic
And mystery,
Is where I made
My eternal mark.
It is true,
My kingdom lies in shadows,
Even though I still shine
I shine by the blessing
Of the light,
A light that will
Never be mine.

As I am a king, I am also an adventurer,
Always on the move, in motion
And my journey is full of magic.
Powerful enough to move entire oceans.

As I have mentioned,
I am the king of changing shapes,
And in a variety of my transformations
Is where the key to the door awaits.

To enter my kingdom of
Mistery.
Four gifts of the
Arcane I will request
The first one should be
Of no value
And the last one with
Power to fulfill any
desire.

When the door opens, the music stops, and a small congratulatory blast of trumpets accompanies an old banner dropping from the ceiling. “Happy 500th Nostra!“. On a buffet lie mostly rotten gift baskets, old instruments sit on a cluster of chairs, and decayed party decor linger in this small room. The group loots everything valuable including a rug that changes with the phases of the moon. They return to the dance hall to move on.

A short hallway stained with oil shows significant wear and reeks of metal. The group ignores these signs and charges through, leaving Tormenoth and Leon to be struck by a swinging spike wall that snaps out from behind the wood paneled walls. Exiting back into the main hallway of traps, they can see the shrine room more closely as Rila uses her spider form again to climb across the ceiling and avoid danger. The others time their jumps across to the west side of the dragon lair. They can see the shrine to Tiamat inside stacked with treasures as they move past, with the group reconsidering how quickly they can move treasure through their dimensional cabinet. The next room mirrors the throne room in number of treasures, except that everything in here is poorly maintained, rotten, and ruined. Magical spotlights still move around the room to highlight these once beautiful holdings, leaving other parts in darkness. Tormenoth takes the lead on scouting the room as the whole group is unfortunately lined up in the doorway to take the full brunt of a Behir’s lighting breath when it scurries down from the darkness of the vaulted ceiling. Not wanting a repeat of the attack, and none of them remembering the monster trivia of how often a Behir can make that attack, Leon conjures a force wall adjacent but parallel to the doorway. He keeps it too narrow for the monster to get in while allowing their smaller frames to step in and out to attack. The strategy pays off, preventing the snake-like monster from getting off another painful blow. Darkness and bright lights flicker around the room, but the careful whisperers are unfazed by the changing light levels or the Behir crawling up the columns for high ground. Their ranged spells seem like clockwork as they rotate in time to each land their magical blows. They put down the beast just as more crackling electricity starts to build up in the back of its throat. As it slams the floor, lifeless, they scan the room and confirm the worthlessness of what this creature was hoarding. 

Having dealt with five challenges, they all decide to prepare for their heist as they had schemed nights ago. Using their paired magical cabinets, all of them hide inside except for Rila and Ariel, the two who had been spotted by the dragonborn champion earlier. Leon and Tormenoth are to wait at the other end, inside a bank vault they had rented for this purpose in Bogoreka. The two women approach the champion to demand entry to pay tribute. With a congratulatory laugh he acknowledges their triumph, lowers the barrier, and invites them to hand over the tribute. Not fooled by the change in attitude, they refuse and want to do it themselves. A decidedly more cunning chuckle precedes him pointing to the pile of treasures around the shrine, “Of course, tributes are being stored here in preparation.” When they present only a cabinet from their pocket plane, they tell him they offer everything inside as their tribute to answer his raised brow ridge. Not wasting time, they leave without giving or receiving a goodbye. 

With that done, they head out the way they came in, winding around to avoid the main hallway of death traps. Once outside the lair, Leon and Tormenoth step back through and join Ariel and Rila booking a ship back to Bogoreka. As they prepare to launch their heist, they find a note in the middle of their rented vault “Clever, but you better follow through on your plan to tribute.” The group is concerned with what sort of magic he has access to, utilizing their linked cabinets without being given the command phrase. It is not enough to deter them, but they decide to rest up. 

Heading back to their campuses for the night, they arrive in Bingham Warfrost to see smoke rising from the main hall and students running to get their gear to join the fight. Most students are blindly rushing in, but the group recognizes the sounds and smells from before. Beithir the Planeswalker is here with his summoned abominations. As they make their way into the building, they can hear sounds above of fighting and decide that Professor Zap can fend for himself if he is still in his first-floor office. Students are struggling in the chaos on the upper floors, but the Dissonant Whisperers rally them, helping fend off the monsters and organizing to get the wounded out. Not willing to split up, they arm their fellow students with knowledge of the abominations’ weaknesses before heading back into the fray. Fighting through they find the source of the incursion and a pair of the monsters preparing a portal to send the ironbones amulet through to Beithir. Acting quickly, the group focuses fire on the monsters to break their concentration using blinding light and sounds to attack the monsters’ weak points. Beithir taunts them again before the portal starts to collapse, then he begins cursing them and sneering at their undeserved artifact. He promises further retribution but unfortunately some students overhear. Many at the attack are boosted in their opinions of the group but rumor spreads outside who witnessed their aid first-hand, as blame starts to spread of their stolen artifact having provoked the attack. As school authorities debrief them, they overhear that Courvana was the only campus to be spared attacks by similar creatures. They do not have time to worry about this right now though, they have a heist to perform.

Waiting until it sounds quiet, Rila and Ariel close themselves into the vault cabinet then appear in the matching cabinet in a corrupted dragon lair to begin stealing all the treasures in reach. The champion wakes up from his bunk as Rila steps out, but they move quickly to toss everything in the cabinet while disguising their theft with magic. The illusion they leave behind appears as the pile of treasures, but the champion charges them as they finish the spell. He can intercept the thrown spell-bomb Klythmnora had made them, catching it, and recorking it before it goes off. Having already unfurled their teleportation scroll, the two vanish. Reappearing in the bank vault, they let the guys know the unwelcome news. They will have to make a second attack if they want to finish what they started. 

The new plan is a hastily hatched one made the next morning, they will make a full-frontal assault but call in some favors. Leon reaches out to Myrkul for his favor, he offers to lock out the high priestess and champion from calling on Tiamat during the heist. At the same time, he makes an offhand comment that Leon should try raising the priestess’ corpse if he can, she might prove useful. Ariel stops at Klythmnora to confirm that the spellbomb will still function if they can uncork it. Tormenoth moves to guard the bank vault cabinet while Rila spends some time looking around for an animal companion she might be able to Awaken but does not have any luck. With everyone ready, they gather back at the port for a return boat ride to Oldport. The town is in a state of chaos, pillaged. Kobolds attacked early this morning using the aid of a pair of powerful individuals obscured by cloaks. They did a smash and grab, killing a few guards in the night and making off with what few goods were in the old warehouses and shops by the docks. 

A short journey gets them back to the old dragon cave, where they delve to find the old shrine room deserted, an open doorway to hidden stairs heading down. They can hear some ritual rites being performed and head down. They find the champion and the high priestess in front of a large shrine stacked up with treasures as well as the loot taken from the town. With no time to lose Leon calls in Myrkul and the group begins the fight. Before the champion can raise the same prismatic barrier, Rila summons four apes to distract the priestess from starting the tribute ritual in earnest with their fists. Tormenoth and Ariel fight the champion as he lashes out with divine spells, but he swears as his first spell disintegrates in his hands. Kobold reinforcements are called in from small side tunnels, but they cannot offer much in the face of so much adventurer firepower. Following the champions, the priestess’ first spell crumbles too, so she switches to trying to consume treasures. This attempt at the ritual does not get far, with Rila’s summoned minions striking her, and in a desperate bid, the priestess pushes past grievous wounds to try and destroy the decanter with the spellbomb. They push to the last, but the champion and priestess fall, ripped apart by spells as they refuse to back down from the fight.

Wanting to try Myrkul’s suggestion, Leon moves her body to the pocket plane for raising later along with all the gathered treasure and loot. Wasting no time, the group uncorks the decanter as they flee its rapidly increasing magical energies. A great roar of magic rips through the lair, audible even from outside the double doors and all of them can feel a wave of divine energy in which a draconic roar can be heard. 

Back in town, a mysterious individual with seven canaries stepped in to cover the town’s losses. The Dissonant Whisperers decide to return the stolen goods anyway to raucous celebrations from a town that has seen its losses instead doubled thanks to two generous do-gooders. Musing over the identity of this mysterious old man, they connect him with another similar individual with canaries: the owner of a food cart back in the Kingdom of Gaea. Some further thinking, and Leon is certain the man is either traveling through time with the aid of the gods or a god themselves, likely Bahamut. A ship ride home lets them recuperate their wounds and plan their next moves as they tuck this new information of godly meddling away for later. Back in the city of Bogoreka they sell their influx of new treasures to buy some equipment as some personal history and connections come back to haunt them.

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