The Winding Serpent
By James Wyatt
In the wretched heart of this subterranean city's mercantile district, a magnificent structure stands out among the nearby homes and taverns: a mansion called "the Snake Pit" by its wary neighbors. The building's walls are carved with images of serpents and scales, and two snake-tailed halfblood yuan-ti stand guard at its gates. This imposing edifice is the residence of Zstulkk Ssarmn, a prominent slaver and a yuan-ti abomination.
Inside Zstulkk's mansion, a coiled ramp leads down into the stone below. At its bottom lies a cavern lit with lurid red flame. Magic heats pools of water and causes small geysers to erupt around the cavern floor, making the atmosphere steamy, much like the southern jungles, though no trees or ferns grow this far underground. From the cavern floor, a small step pyramid rises like a coiled serpent, its stone walls carved with more reptilian imagery. At this temple, Zstulkk Ssarmn leads his yuan-ti brood in worship of the god they call Sseth, whose name in Mulhorand is Set. The yuan-ti revere this evil deity as the snake-god of Chult, and believe he will lead them back to the power they held at the dawn of time, when a mighty nation of serpents held sway over the entire Chultan peninsula from the Peaks of Flame to the Mhair Jungles.
The skull portal in the Serpent Hills leads to this humid cavern far below Skullport. Travelers emerge from thin air right in front of the entrance to the temple -- and right under the watchful eyes of two halfblood guards. In addition, a carved snake's head juts out above the temple doorway, its ruby eyes serving as a scrying mechanism for Zstulkk Ssarmn. In his sleeping chamber in the mansion above, a mirror hangs on the wall, its silvery surface constantly showing what the snake's gemstone eyes can "see." The halfblood guards greet yuan-ti visitors from the Serpent Hills formally, and invite them to refresh themselves in the warm pools until Zstulkk Ssarmn can meet with them. They swiftly attack any other creature who passes through the portal, but try to take captives rather than kill outright, so that Zstulkk can interrogate them at his leisure.
Zstulkk Ssarmn is an important figure in Skullport's thriving slave trade, and one of the founding members of the Iron Ring -- a consortium of slavers who keep the slave business running in the city. Having only recently completed his temple to Sseth, Zstulkk is working hard to increase the numbers of yuan-ti in his employ. He encourages his underlings in vigorous breeding programs, and keeps eggs safe in the subterranean temple. He also accepts new recruits from Chult, the Serpent Hills, and Hlondeth, but does not allow any yuan-ti to remain in the city without joining his organization and swearing loyalty to him. Zstulkk dreams of bringing all of Skullport under yuan-ti domination, forming the city into a serpentine city-state with himself as priest-king.
In addition to the yuan-ti who travel via the portal to Skullport, Zstulkk Ssarmn happily welcomes pureblood and tainted one spies from Chult who travel to Skullport via merchant ships operated by the Rundeen (see pages 105-106 in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting). Zstulkk commands legions of spies throughout Skullport and even in Waterdeep above, for he has come to realize that information is perhaps the most valuable commodity in Skullport.
Skullport lies along the subterranean river Sargauth, and over the centuries several portals large enough for entire ships to travel through them have been built in cavern walls along this waterway. One such portal stands in the wall about 400 feet east of Skull Island, only faintly visible as a scratched outline in the stone. (A successful DC 30 Spot check enables a character to notice it from a ship's deck; characters actively scanning for it can find it with a successful DC 20 Search check). Triggering the portal requires no special key, just extraordinary confidence on the part of the ship's pilot: The vessel must simply be steered bow-first into the wall. When the bowsprit makes contact with the portal, the vessel and all its contents are transported instantly to the middle of the Lapal Sea, about 2,000 miles to the south-southeast at the base of the Chultan peninsula.