No sooner had the battle ended than Tristan turned upon Fiona and dealt her a withering blow to the face with his axe’s haft. Before Vayne or J’Div could intervene—Brandis could have stopped it, but saw that the other party members were ambivalent about what to do so he stayed his hand—the paladin followed up the strike with a blow to the knee that shattered Fiona’s bone and tissue. She collapsed into agonized unconsciousness.
Vayne pounced on Tristan, stunning him briefly with her swordmagic, buying the group a moment. She was unsure if he had been attacked by some external entity that was guiding his actions, but Brandis said he understood what Tristan was doing, J’Div nodded silent approval, while Ysabelle refused to say anything. Vayne lodged her protest of condoning Tristan’s actions, but she relented that they would speak to him.
When the paladin came to, he explained that Fiona had undertaken a series of terrible decisions that had placed them in immense danger, including voluntarily using Cyric’s skull and—potentially—summoning his avatar into the Realms. Vayne countered that they didn’t know what had happened, but Tristan argued that he felt it in his bones and wasn’t going to let Fiona run around free until they were sure. Pointing out her shattered leg, J’Div observed that Fiona wasn’t likely to be running around anywhere for a while. Tristan immediately set to healing her at Vayne’s request, and the group repaired her wound as best they could. They continued on, taking Fiona along more as a prisoner than a companion.
The tiefling eventually woke up in a world of agony from her ruined leg, about which Tristan did not show any sympathy, nor did Brandis, J’Div, or even Ysabelle. Vayne made friendly overtures to Fiona, including soothing some obvious pain she was feeling. The tiefling adamantly refused to discuss her situation, stubbornly asserting that she was perfectly fine, despite an instance where her fire powers failed to function. She grew obviously alarmed but said soon after that she was all better and could work her magic with ease. The rest of the party earned her venomous tongue, particularly Ysabelle, whom Fiona accused of being a monster they were tolerating in their midst, while they (hypocritically) keep Fiona captive. Ysabelle was upset by Fiona’s accusation and withdrew from the party for a little bit. Vayne went after her and assured her that she had done the right thing—the only thing she could have done under the circumstances.
As they progressed through the Underdark, things continued as they had been, though at least Ysabelle was drawing no more awful sigils. Tristan kept having the dreams, and lost more and more sleep each night. Vayne took back the red-bladed Godsbane from J’Div and sought to learn more about it. The blade spoke to her, promising great power if she would only appease it by killing. It flattered her, suggesting she was the most worthy one to wield it, though she detected a hint of qualification in that department. She thought of Sunic, and the blade recognized the image: yes, Sunic, its former wielder, was more worthy than Vayne, and the shadar-kai knew that the blade would desert her for Sunic if it ever got the chance. Though it was difficult, she put the blade away, refusing to have anything to do with it.
Eventually, Vayne tried to convince Fiona to test her powers, even going so far as to threaten her with an attack against which she would have to defend herself, but ultimately it did not succeed. Fiona shut down and would not communicate with anyone. It was speculated that she might have violated her pact with her master (infernal? The group was unsure), and thus her powers were not working—or perhaps she was simply hiding them until the right time. Vayne returned to Fiona and apologized for her seeming threat—she promised the tiefling she would never let her come to harm, if she could help it. Fiona accepted this promise stoically.
That night Tristan attempted to draw them all into his dream, with mixed results. Ysabelle and Brandis realized that the man trapped in the prison of air was not Tristan, but rather Linn, Tristan’s father. Ysabelle had a severely negative reaction to the dream and lashed out, harming all of the sleeping companions, who awoke in psychic pain. When they woke, they found J’Div had vanished—the genasi had been on watch, and while his pack remained, he himself was gone as though he had run off to deal with a threat. The heroes immediately broke camp and searched for J’Div, only to find traces of genasi blood in one of the caverns (though not enough to be from a death) and a lingering melancholy that Vayne recognized as the influence of the Shadowfell.
It looked as though Sunic had taken J’Div—perhaps killed him.
In the days after, the grim reality set in. Not only were they days behind Henri and his guided party, but Fiona had seemingly betrayed them, they’d summoned an avatar of Cyric, J’Div was gone, and now Sunic seemingly knew where they were. Possibly, J’Div had sacrificed himself to stave off Sunic’s attack, and possibly he wasn’t dead, but there were meager rays of hope indeed.
Distraught, Vayne returned to meditating upon Godsbane. Brandis and Ysabelle watched her suspiciously, recognizing her psychological distress and fearing the sword was influencing her. One night, as she sat meditating, Vayne said (in dark tones): “Brandis.” The monk came over, a little hesitantly. “Do you want me to kill Fiona?” Vayne asked. Brandis was shocked, and Vayne continued: “The sword . . . it needs to feed. Just let me do this . . . The urge. It’s just . . . so . . . much . . . ugh!” Then she writhed on the ground, feigning demonic possession, and ultimately collapsed into laughing.
Ysabelle grinned, though Brandis hardly thought this was funny. Ultimately, Vayne smiled at him, reassured him she was just fine, and gave him Godsbane to carry for assurance. She claimed to be upset over J’Div’s uncertain fate, but she wasn’t about to do anything rash.
The mood was sufficiently lightened that Fiona felt comfortable coming forward to talk to everyone, and a discussion was had regarding their path forward. A truce was called—a fresh start, particularly to Fiona’s relationship with Tristan, and the group agreed that the only way to achieve their goals was to cooperate. Brandis adamantly insisted on a promise from Fiona to try to be a better person, which the tiefling avoided offering. She made it clear that while she acknowledged his concerns, there was no way she could promise not to do whatever was necessary—including the murder of innocents—to save her family. How well this newfound peace among them would stick, none could say.
Shortly thereafter, the heroes ended up in a drow ambush. They handily fought off the first wave of dark elves, whom it turns out had been sent to test their abilities. A drow warlock appeared and sent his pet umber hulk to grab Ysabelle—it appeared he had been after her specifically. Fiona remained in hiding and did not use her fire powers, whether they were available or not. The heroes defeated the drow and Tristan blasted the warlock with silver fire, rendering him incorporeal with no known duration.
The warlock recognized he was overmatched and instead invited the heroes to an audience with his mistress, Matron Mother Baen, at an outpost nearby. In return, he would grant the heroes information related to their quest. The heroes went with him, during which he continually badgered them with questions—particularly regarding Tristan’s worship of what he knew as a dead goddess, Mystra—until Vayne turned incorporeal and slapped him, demanding silence of the “lowly male.” The warlock suggested that with a different skin, she could be a matron mother herself.
They arrived at the outpost’s audience hall, filled with spiders and drow servitors, where they were greeted by the Matron Mother of whom the warlock had spoken. The drow woman promised an exchange of information if they were to perform a service for her: opening a certain set of double doors behind her throne. Apparently, it had been pre-ordained that Ysabelle would arrive and open the doors for the drow. The heroes bargained to learn what was behind the doors and to increase the information they would get, but the Matron Mother was a shrewd negotiator and they could not get her to budge. Ultimately, she wanted to know how Ysabelle would open the door, which the heroes did not want to tell her, as that would entail a battle as the drow sought the gatekeeper staff.
Finally, Ysabelle agreed to do it, provided everyone leave the room. She did so, and the doors ground a little bit ajar, loosing a cold, deadly wind. When the drow returned—very happy that the doors were open—they refused to let the heroes leave, provoking drawn steel. It might have come to a direct confrontation, but abruptly an awful half-drow, half-demon came through the doors to what appeared to be the Demonweb Pits. It started devouring drow guards and the battle was joined.
With her psionic abilities, Ysabelle immediately sent the matron mother to attack the creature, playing the two sides against each other. While Brandis covered the main entrance to the room—a bridge over a pit of acid—the rest of the heroes fought against the draegloth and the drow. The Matron Mother seized Vayne’s mind and sent her to attack Ysabelle, but Vayne fought through it with the power of her maternal feelings for the girl. Meanwhile, the drow warlock appeared and sent his umber hulk after Brandis. The wily monk, however, managed to knock it into the acid, enraging the warlock whose “pet” had just been destroyed. He proceeded to drain the life out of many drow guards as he powered up to fight Brandis. He summoned an infernal hand to hold the monk up in the air, kicking and flailing. Fiona’s powers seemed to have returned, and she spent the time blasting drow and spiders in the temple.
The draegloth finally tore the Matron Mother in half, then turned upon the heroes as fresh prey. Tristan struck it with silver fire, and he and Vayne managed to lock the creature in place for a time, the paladin hitting it with his axe and the swordmage deflecting its attacks with her spells. Slowly but surely, as Brandis struggled with the warlock, Vayne and Tristan managed to fight the draegloth back into the portal and close one of the doors. The creature had another trick yet to play, however: it seized both Vayne and Ysabelle with webs, and pulled them into the awful abyssal plane with him. Vayne kept fighting and cried out for Tristan to save Ysabelle and close the doors—on her if needed.
Brandis beat the drow warlock and convinced him—on threat of being dropped in the lava—to surrender. The drow, seeing his Matron Mother dead and his other potential allies fled, agreed. He invoked his powers to summon his infernal hand to hold one door shut while Tristan closed the other.
Ysabelle teleported to freedom, and Tristan began to shut the door . . . just in time for Vayne to shadow jaunt back into the chamber and use her last breath to invoke a spell to hold the doors shut. The ancient warding magic, rekindled by Vayne’s power, snapped back into being, and the Dark Portal was once again shut.
TO BE CONTINUED!