The Winding Serpent
By James Wyatt
While the altar in the Pit of Vipers lies empty, a memorial to the long-vanished Sseth who ruled from there a thousand years ago, the altar of the identical temple in Hlondeth is anything but vacant. Unwelcome visitors who find themselves in the Hlondethan temple are not always quick to notice the change -- until the figure who occupies the altar brings herself to speak. When she does, her words are almost invariably a death sentence upon those who would trespass into her holiest of holy places. She is called the Serpent Sibyl, and among certain yuan-ti in Hlondeth, she is worshiped as Sseth reborn.
The Serpent Sibyl appeared in Hlondeth in Alturiak of 1372 DR (roughly six months before the start of the new Forgotten Realms campaign, as described in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting). She established herself in a temple to Sseth that had long lain vacant, visited only occasionally by the complacent state priests loyal first to the Extaminos family and, a distant second, to the yuan-ti as a whole. She has swiftly killed any yuan-ti who came to the temple and refused to worship her, including a distant Extaminos cousin. Dediana Extaminos, the city's yuan-ti ruler, has not yet made up her mind whether to worship the Serpent Sibyl or not, and keeps her distance from the temple.
Meanwhile, a strong faction of yuan-ti serves the Serpent Sibyl with blind loyalty. They are convinced that Sseth has returned in her hideous form, mightier than ever and ready to lead them to victory over the mammal races of Faerûn. In her name, yuan-ti agents across Faerûn plot and spy and kill, preparing her way to world domination. At her orders, they scheme to wrest Serpent's Cowl from human control, re-establishing the ancient yuan-ti capital (called the Shrine of Cowled Serpents) and the power of the northern yuan-ti kingdom. In her honor, Zstulkk Ssarmn plots to seize control of Skullport -- then work his way up toward Waterdeep, the City of Splendors. In her name, the Sesehen tribe works toward rebuilding the Pit of Vipers and unifying the yuan-ti tribes of the Chultan peninsula, rebuilding the southern yuan-ti kingdom. Under her leadership, the yuan-ti of the Serpent Hills, Hlondeth, Chult, and Skullport could be united into the mightiest empire of serpents Faerûn has ever known.
The Serpent Sibyl's directs her primary efforts toward the areas where yuan-ti historically ruled mighty nations (Chult and the Serpent Hills) though the city-state of Hlondeth, with its ruling family of yuan-ti, is obviously a key location as well. Her activities through Zstulkk Ssarmn in Skullport reveal her willingness to expand her vision beyond the memory of ancient glory to consider new opportunities and goals. Skullport's location directly beneath Waterdeep -- easily the most important port on the Shining Sea -- makes it an attractive area to extend yuan-ti influence; the surface city is rife with pureblood and tainted one spies, even as Zstulkk plots below. While the Serpent Sibyl waits to see if Zstulkk's plans will bear fruit, she keeps a close watch on the Inner Sea as well, particularly Cormyr and Sembia. Nearer to home, she maintains a vigilant watch on Dediana Extaminos and the yuan-ti nobles close to her, planning to win them to her cause or, barring that, eliminate them and put a new yuan-ti ruler on Hlondeth's throne.
The Serpent Sibyl also works to defend Hlondeth's portal that leads to the Serpent Hills. The portal lies in the Deepwing Mountains near Surkh, in territory that is claimed by the lizardfolk of Surkh. Her yuan-ti agents have built a small fort around the portal, but they have had to fight off regular lizardfolk assaults in order to retain control of the fort and keep their passageway to the Serpent Hills open. Unable to breach the fort's walls, the lizardfolk have taken to ambushing parties of yuan-ti that come from Hlondeth to use the portal. The lizardfolk's presence is a constant thorn in the Serpent Sibyl's side, and she ever ponders the best course of action to deal with it. If she can muster the necessary forces from Chult, the Serpent Hills, and Skullport, she will almost certainly move against the city of Surkh before the year's end.
The portal itself is a slab of stone, 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide, jutting up from the earth at a sharp angle. Serpentine symbols trace the eastern side of the slab, marking the portal's presence, but the portal activates only when the early-morning sunlight shines full upon the stone. During this time, any creature touching the stone is drawn through the portal and deposited in the petrified serpent's mouth in the midst of the Serpent Hills. The nature of the portal makes its defense particularly important, as traveling yuan-ti typically arrive at the stone several hours before it can operate and need a safe place to wait for dawn unmolested by lizardfolk raiders.