The roiling tides of Churning Bay wash occasional rags and sail-scraps to the wharves of Hlondeth, but never anything larger or heavier. Wise old salts say this means neither tides nor currents scour the bottom, and instead these tides and currents rage well above the shattered wrecks. If they could breathe water, they'd be out there in a trice, dragging forth chests of gold!
Those wise old salts are correct about Churning Bay. Despite its furious tides and surface waves, the waters from its bottom up to about the height of two tall humans remain fairly calm at all times, making for good visibility. The bottom is thin sand over flat, exposed bedrock, studded here and there with "wavegrass" (inedible-to-humans, horribly salty and tough marine plants that look like tall tufts of grass that cling to rock fissures). Every other surface has the broken ribs, spars, and planking of shattered ships often piled four deep.
Many aquatic monsters lurk here, drawn to the abundant food (eagerly visiting Sssrathluth). Sharks and giant squids are common, and giant octopi and even scrags lurk in flooded holds and beneath riven decks.
The Laughing Lass sits apart from the general tangle, its two upright halves looking astonishingly intact, as if the carrack had sunk only yesterday. Powerful wardspells keep it that way, holding the wreck intact, preventing magical scrying into it, and foiling spells that might detect the trio of portals hidden in each half.
The portals exist because the Lass is indeed a lure for adventurers.
The Mrastaress of Hlondeth, Dediana Extaminos (LE female halfblood yuan-ti sorcerer 10, legless but having a serpent tail), has for some time sought a counter to the activities of her son Dmetrio (more is said of such matters and of Churning Bay in the Serpent Kingdoms sourcebook, under "Hlondeth"), and she believes she has at last found a way to increase her reach and power, and win herself a private army.
The keys to Dediana's plan were two now-dead yuan-ti who fell into her power: Sriss Lavoenroes of Hlondeth, who devised the poison known as "aumrara," and the wandering "mystic" Haunta Dreen, who acquired spells (or found and mastered a magic item) that could create portals.
Dediana found it easy to strip Sriss of his alchemical secrets and then dispose of him, but Haunta was far more wily and dangerous. Dediana had to slay him after he crafted the Laughing Lassportals, when her attempts to learn exactly how he made portals caused him to threaten to assist Dmetrio against her. She exhausted several magic items in a narrow victory over Dreen.
Dediana has caused hundreds of gold coins to be scattered all over the wreck, and several open, empty chests are artfully arranged in its cabins, situated so that searchers are almost certain to fall through one of her portals.
All of them take creatures to the same place: one end of a cellar deep under the soaring castle of the Mrastaress.
The portals cause a chime to alert the Mrastaress whenever they operate, and then they deposit creatures several feet above the amber-hued tiles of the cellar floor; if they can't start to fly instantly, they'll fall a short distance to the floor -- which is slick since an amber oil that contains aumrara coats it (DC 17 Reflex save to avoid falling). Aumrara is a contact poison, and there's more of it in a dozen decanters of wine on a stone table at the far end of the cellar, which is otherwise empty.
The Mrastaress can see and speak down into the cellar through scores of small holes in its ceiling, which is some 30 feet above the floor. The cellar is 60 feet wide and 200 feet long.
Sounding concerned, Dediana Extaminos will ask "guests" if they feel a burning sensation. If any say that they do, she'll not reveal what has afflicted them or how, but she claims that all of them have been poisoned by aumrara and must obey her henceforth or die -- since only she can provide them with the antidote.
She'll then issue orders, telling them to accomplish a particular thing, such as overcoming all opposition to seize specific items (magic items held by a wizard, temple, or ruler elsewhere in Faerūn). Sometimes they'll be sent to slay allies of Dmetrio or her many other foes.
If they return to the exact spot her "magic" (another portal that can take any living creature within 20 feet of the table when she activates it) took them to, she'll bring them back, and they'll then receive their "first dose" of antidote.
Captives who refuse are left to starve. Those who obey are paralyzed with spells when they return to the cellar, and the items they seized are taken from them (this paralyzation, they're told, is the antidote).
This existence continues for as long as captives survive or obey. In truth, there is no antidote to aumrara; captives who flee while out on a mission will escape the Mrastaress.
Aumrara is a soluble amber liquid that is unaffected by alcohol. The burning sensation it causes on contact with flesh as initial damage is completely harmless, but it causes paralysis as its secondary damage. Before this poison can be crafted by PCs, DMs are advised to allow the PCs to attempt to discover its secret ingredients from Dediana. Once they discover the crushed plant seed and two different plant saps that they require, they must make a DC 30 Craft (poisonmaking) check to ensure that they mix it in its proper ratio. Failure results in a botched batch. If added to traps, the modifier to the trap's Challenge Rating is +4.
About the Author
Ed Greenwood is the man who unleashed the Forgotten Realms on an unsuspecting world. He works in libraries, writes fantasy, sf, horror, mystery, and even romance stories (sometimes all in the same novel), but he is still happiest churning out Realmslore, Realmslore, and more Realmslore. There are still a few rooms in his house with space left to pile up papers in . . .
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