The Gatekeeper

13. 20,000 Leagues over the Sea of Fallen Stars
Of Unfettered Krakens, Secrets Uncovered, and Desertion

The intrepid heroes passed through a portal and arrived at the Sea of Fallen Stars, wherein the first order of business was to put Ruthchek and Demi-Vayne afloat in a life raft away from the Chromium. The hobgoblin was displeased to leave (he seemed clearly to have been hoping for communal activities with both Vaynes), but he seemed happy enough to go off with his fantasy woman. He tried to say goodbye to Vayne, but she was still upset so she spurned him and refused to bid him farewell.

Shortly after they set Ruthchek and the other Vayne adrift, however, they saw the stormy clouds in the sky that heralded the coming of the aboleth city Xxiphu, as well as not one but two flying krakens who pursued them. They set sail for Cormyr, where Tristan’s mother might be found, but it was obvious that the krakens would catch them before they got there. So busy were the heroes in finding a suitable place to fight the creature, they forgot all about their exiled passengers, whom they had set adrift. The second kraken split off from the pursuit and went after the smaller ship.

The heroes met the first kraken in some shallows, where it could not submerge and escape them. Even so, the battle was difficult, as the creature seemed at home in the air as another might be in the water. Its tentacles wreaked havoc on the Chromium, but the heroes managed to dispatch it with the ballista and their own magic. Afterward, even Vayne agreed as to the need to save Ruthchek and Demi-Vayne, who was innocent of any wrongdoing and had not asked to be created. They attacked the kraken, which had almost slaughtered the hobgoblin and simulacrum. Brandis, Tristan, and J’Div dived onto the kraken to draw its attention, while Vayne set the Chromium on a ramming course down into the creature’s backside. Severely wounded in the assault, the kraken tried to drag its attackers down into the depths, but Brandis and J’Div’s combined strength allowed them to kill it outright.

They rescued Ruthchek and Demi-Vayne, albeit half-drowned. Vayne acknowledge the impracticality of letting them go with all they knew—it might put them in danger from any of the Worldwalkers’ enemies. She asked Ysabelle to do for Ruthchek and Demi-Vayne what she had done for the real Vayne so many months before: use her psionics to wipe their minds and implant different memories. Vayne insisted that Ysabelle make Ruthchek and Demi-Vayne happy, whatever their life would be. Brandis remarked that peace was the last ending Ruthchek would have expected, and Vayne added that he deserved it. She kissed the hobgoblin on the forehead—a final farewell. Ysabelle plied her mental talents, and the heroes sent the hobgoblin and his “wife” to settle somewhere in the Dalelands or Cormyr.

Thereafter, the heroes put into Suzail, where they interacted with Tristan’s mother, Elyse: an elegant silver dragon who spent most of her time in the body of a beauteous elf. She said she did not know where the case for the orb of reality might be found, but she suggested where the heroes might find instructions to build a new one: Ellerin’s lab. When last she had seen the archwizard, he had retired to his laboratory in Limbo, there to experiment with his spells and artifacts. Meanwhile, Elyse agreed to hide the orb of reality in her hoard until the heroes had the case—or potential forever, if they did not return.

Before setting out for the Elemental Chaos, Vayne asked where the Gatekeeper staff was pointing. Tristan fell into communion with it, as he had for some time, and learned that it was again on the move. From the Astral Sea to Toril to the Shadowfell. A cold certainty came over Vayne, and she asked to see the assembled pieces the party possessed. Tristan handed it over, and Vayne confirmed her suspicion with a curse. Somehow, Sunic had switched his own piece of the staff for Tristan’s back in Sigil—he had taken the next pieces without their knowledge, and that meant he was planning a betrayal for them.

Tristan paled a little, both with fear and anger, and Vayne turned upon him with cold, certain eyes. “Hit me,” she said. Tristan looked at her askance, but Vayne was adamant. “Take out your axe and hit me with it. Right now.” He did as she asked, cutting a deep gouge in her flesh. She staggered, laughed, then drew out her silver sword. The rest of the party came upon them, seeing Vayne fighting with Tristan. She mentally contacted Ysabelle, explaining that she had to seem to betray the party if she was to get to Sunic. Ysabelle and Brandis both questioned this plan, but Vayne assured them that someone had to keep tabs on Sunic, and she was the only one who could do it. Ysabelle asked her about the promise she had sworn to be there for her, but Vayne shook her head: “I will be exactly where you need me to be,” she thought to Ysabelle.

She attacked the group, and they beat her soundly, knocking away her sword and divesting her of several of her most powerful relics. Bloodied and beaten, she invoked the power of her shadow ring and teleported to Sunic’s castle, making it look like she defected to his side. Sunic came upon her collapsed in his antechamber, bleeding to death, and immediately healed her with his shadowy powers. She told him that she had attempted to take the Gatekeeper’s Staff, as they could not be trusted with it—explaining why she appeared so heavily wounded by the heroes’ hands. He fell for it easily.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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12. The Angelic Demon
Of Tieflings, Death Knights, and Evil Twins

On their route through the Astral Sea to a portal to lead to Faerûn, where they sought to reunite with Tristan’s mother and acquire a case to bind the orb’s power, the death-defying heroes came across a floating earthmote that seemed to be on fire. When they drew closer, it became plain that a column of flame reached into the air—flames conjured by someone trapped without food and water on the island. Tristan took Vayne in his arms and they flew over to the island, passing over to identify only a single potential threat. Vayne teleported down and put her sword to the fire-wielder’s throat. This made quite the impression on the skinny female tiefling, who immediately knew her would-be rescuers were serious.

The tiefling’s name was Fiona, and she had been stranded on the island under circumstances she could not fully explain. She was from Toril—the world of Tristan’s birth—and wanted to return there if at all possible. She was very willing to pay for her passage with her services, though she had little in the way of worldly possessions to offer. Vayne was hesitant, but Tristan voted to bring her along. Before they returned to the Chromium, Vayne and Tristan told Fiona to “think happy thoughts.” None of the heroes further explained this edict, as to do so would require trusting a perfect stranger with a significant amount of delicate information. Fiona’s mind wandered based on the suggestion to “think happy thoughts,” and she inadvertently turned part of the Chromium’s deck into pie. And oh, was it delicious.

This advice came into play shortly thereafter, when in the midst of a nightmare, Fiona conjured a death knight mounted on a dracolich to fight the heroes. They had dealt with numerous lesser monsters from their fantasies, but this was a particularly powerful nightmare. The knight claimed to be in service to the mighty Szass Tam, and he had tracked down the tiefling for his master’s pleasure. Fiona demonstrated her great warlock powers in battle with the death knight, and after it was defeated, the heroes agreed to take her into their full confidence. They told her about the orb of reality, which was why they had to think positive thoughts. Apparently, Ruthchek had not quite made the connection that he could use the orb to create something, so he immediately retired to his bunk to think.

Tristan took the opportunity to check the Gatekeeper Staff for the direction of the next piece, and it was pointing toward the Shadowfell. He’d been checking the rod every so often, and the next piece seemed to be on the move.

As they drew close to a portal to Toril, Ysabelle found Vayne on the aftcastle, staring into the endless expanse of the Astral Sea. They shared a moment, a little like that of a daughter and mother and a little like that of two friends. Vayne’s commitment to Ysabelle was clear, and the shadar-kai reiterated her vow never to let any harm befall the girl. Ysabelle said the same thing to Vayne—that she would never suffer harm to befall her, if she could help it. Vayne smiled.

It was at that moment that Brandis appeared on the deck, having been having his own conversation with Vayne—an entirely different person. The two Vaynes faced one another, startled, and both turned simultaneously to shout “Ruthchek!” The hobgoblin seemed to have created a simulacrum of Vayne—Demi-Vayne—from the orb of reality. They looked identical on the surface, but the differences between them were obvious. For one thing, Demi-Vayne seemed much less serious than the original, and instead of being chiseled from granite, she had absurdly heightened strength—like one might expect of a hobgoblin bride, not a slim shadar-kai woman. Secondly, Demi-Vayne was outrageously sexual, flirting with everyone on the deck, including Ysabelle and (indeed) the original Vayne. J’Div and Tristan exchanged a speculative look at that, though their enthusiasm was quashed when Brandis shot them a serious glance. Demi-Vayne was, in short, Ruthchek’s fantasy in his occasional lover and partner.

For Vayne, this was a bridge too far. After Brandis led Demi-Vayne away, suspicious that she might be a Far Realm construct, the rest of the party had to restrain the original Vayne from killing Ruthchek where he stood. She finally agreed to spare him, on the condition that they put him off in a raft as soon as they reached Toril. Let him have his fantasy and be out of her life—he and the “real” Vayne were over for good.

If only it would prove so simple . . .

TO BE CONTINUED!

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11. Struggles with the Orb
Of Earnest Desires, Dark Demons, and Cloned Gods

While the heroes sought a way to escape the abyss, the orb continued its work in subtle ways. They encountered a dark shape emerging from the shadows, twin glowing swords in his hands. At first, they readied themselves for battle, but Tristan recognized the newcomer the elf paladin Linn, his father. The elder knight chided his son, albeit in a goodly nature. It seemed impossible that Linn could have appeared, and even more wondrous was the appearance of the wizard Ruha, who seemed very pleased to see Ysabelle. In close proximity to Ysabelle, Ruha did share a remarkable resemblance to the girl, such that she could be her mother. Vayne felt a sharp stab of pain in her heart, and perhaps it was that touch of despair that gave rise to her own nightmare. A banderhobb, much as had attacked her a month before, appeared out of the darkness and wrapped its loathsome tongue around her body.

The orb was attacking the heroes by summoning their worst nightmares.

Turning as a father against his son, Linn drew his swords against Tristan, and Ysabelle watched in horror as the woman who promised answers smiled too widely, causing her mouth to split apart into reaching mind flayer tentacles. The girl screamed, but Brandis was there to push the mind flayer away and protect her. He concentrated very, very hard on not thinking about Funikashi. At that moment waterfalls sprung out in the stone walls. J’Div’s nightmare emerged from the darkness: a tentacled horror from beyond their collective imagination. With as much fear as rage, he identified it as the demon lord Dagon, who was far beyond any of them. And if Brandis’s will faltered and Funikashi appeared . . .

Fortunately, the comparatively plain-spoken, plain-thinking J’Div managed to solve the dilemma: he supplicated his demon lord, convincing Dagon that the heroes were its servants, while the other nightmares were the sacrifices they had brought for Dagon’s supper. The demon lord listened to its loyal servitor, and occupied itself entangling and consuming the nightmares, allowing the heroes to escape. They found a way out of the abyss and climbed. This close to her ship, Vayne could sense the Chromium as it waited for them. Unfortunately, so too did Razor wait, summoned by an errant thought of Brandis’s: “The only thing that could make this worse is if Razor appeared.” The heroes had to fight the mad goblin before he opened portals to the Far Realm, but ultimately they bluffed him into hesitation long enough for J’Div to stab him to death again.

They found the Chromium in a hidden cove and fled, orb in tow. The quom, however, were waiting for them as soon as they broke hiding, which panicked the last surviving crewman, who had to be shut up in the brig. The heroes debated what to do—to try to escape with the crewman, which would likely result in horrific death for all of them, or to turn him over to an awful fate. Ultimately, Vayne made the decision: she marched down to the brig, kissed the hapless crewman on the lips, and said sometimes people have to do hard things. Then she ran him through with her sword. When the quom collected the body, Vayne explained that they could as easily take the Lakal from a corpse as from a living man, and this way he would be spared a torturous death.

Somber, the heroes swung by the port long enough to collected Ruthchek and sell off the githyanki pirate ship. As they sailed away from the Shrapnels on the Chromium, the heroes saw a shard of earthmote hurtling toward the port. Likely, the orb of reality had been the force that had kept this natural destruction in check until now, but when the heroes removed it, its protection had left the port. They could not simply stand by and watch as the people of the port were wiped out. After a brief discussion, they agreed that even though it entailed extreme danger—even if it could turn on them and destroy them all—they would use the orb to alter the shrapnel’s course. They banded together, using their collective will, and the shard of earthmote shattered into a thousand pieces that rained harmlessly around the pirate cove.

So concludes PART ONE of the Quest of the Gatekeeper.

TO BE CONTINUED in PART TWO!

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10. Aiming to Misbehave
Of Barroom Brawls, Wild Magic, and Ultimate Power

The heroes (which is to say, mostly Tristan) decided on a plan of action to lure the crew of the Chromium from hiding. Tristan marched into the most disreputable tavern in the port, declared himself both the new owner of Algas’s axe and the “new sheriff in town,” and started a brawl.

A vicious fight ensued, of which the casualties included a dining table (Tristan’s axe), seven mead tankards (various attacks), a mad ogre bartender (portal to the Far Realm), a suddenly intelligent magic sword (J’Div throwing it off the edge of the land), the laws of reality and/or physics (wild magic surge), the bar itself (see above), and approximately half the roguish population of that particular island (see above).

Tristan began the battle by “throwing down the axe” (as it were), splitting a mead table in twain. When the ogre tender joined the fight, Tristan used his silver fire and inadvertently burned a hole in reality to the Far Realm (which made short work of the bartender). The portal immediately started sucking all of reality into it, and all magic went wild. J’Div underwent dozens of transformations, akin to shape change, into a series of fantastic and sometimes rather frightening creatures. Vayne grabbed Ysabelle and together they managed to close the portal with their combined magic. J’Div stopped shifting, only to realize that his enchanted sword had suddenly developed a personality of its own. Tristan promptly named said personality “Wooly.” The genasi promptly threw the weapon into the Astral Sea before it could work any mischief.

Having so brazenly proved themselves (and in the wake of the quom’s departure), the heroes had but to wait an hour or so before one of the surviving Chromium mutineers contacted his old captain, Vayne. Confident that she could protect him (and a little infatuated with her, as they all were), the haggard man offered to lead her to the Chromium, which was safely docked in hiding. The heroes set out, wary of the deception they were playing on the mutinous crewmen.

The man led them into a set of caves, warning them that dangerous creatures lurked in the tunnels. They followed his lead, weapons at the ready, until they came across a passage marked with a set of sigils that seemed to correspond to each of them: Tristan got wings around 7 stars (a dragonborn paladin’s symbol of Mystra), Brandis got an ornate sword (the Dragon Tear sword), and J’Div got the Pandemonium stone. That left one symbol unclaimed—an empty cradle—which Ysabelle speculated could represent her. Vayne said nothing. Surrounding the symbols was a circular rune that Tristan identified as the personal mark of Ruha, the witch and prophetess who had accompanied his parents in their adventures. If it was indeed her mark, she must have left it there a century previous. The heroes could not decided if the symbols were a legitimate message left for them or a forgery meant to mislead them. One thing, however, was certain: despite their guide’s protests, they would take that path.

The heroes stalked down a corridor in pitch blackness, only to find a light growing behind them: the illumination of a ghost beholder. The creature attacked, and they fled down the corridor, which ended in a sloping chute that led to the lair of several astral hulks (extraplanar cousins of the umber hulk). The heroes fought for their lives, barely managing to defeat the creatures. They continued on and came to a great chasm, guarded over by eye tyrants that did not seem keen to attack. The heroes delved into the darkness, and encountered a massive beholder eye tyrant and a hydra that looked like it had been warped by the Far Realm.

They defeated the two creatures in a titanic display of power and prowess, only to find an object inside the hydra: a black orb that looked on the surface like a sphere of annihilation. The orb reacted violently to arcane magic, melting Vayne’s enchanted gloves right off her hands. Tristan revealed that he had heard stories of this item: the Orb of Reality, his parents had called it—an object that had the power to alter reality at the mere thought of its wielder. It was also strongly antimagic—it had carved a rift in Mystra’s divine realm once when they brought it there by accident—and they had finally got rid of the object by tossing it through a portal to a random plane. (Vayne noted this disturbing trend not to clean up their messes but only to sow chaos in their wake, and hoped Tristan did not take too much after his parents.)

No one seemed to want to try it after what had happened to Vayne, but when Ysabelle touched it, the orb seemed to have found its chosen wielder. It proved ridiculously powerful in Ysabelle’s hands, reversing gravity at a mere thought of how the rules might not apply to her. She reined in the power, but too late—the haggard crewmen fell to his death. Ultimately, the heroes managed to restrain the orb, but Tristan explained that the orb was without its magical case to contain its powers. He proposed the heroes journey to the world of Faerûn, where they could find the case for the orb.

Remarked Vayne: “This quest gets more epic all the time.”

TO BE CONTINUED!

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9. Layer upon Layer of Treacheries
Of Awful Fates, Friends Reunited, and Love Triangles

At a local tavern, the heroes found that the quom had horribly eviscerated several members of the Chromium crew. At least two had gone into hiding.

The heroes began asking around, but Brandis froze at the sight of a ghost from his past: Algas, a much-scarred thug of his original band. The knave had a hulking troll with barbed war gauntlets for a bodyguard, as well as a tavern full of combatants who looked loyal to him. Rather than start a fight openly, Vayne plied her charms to lure the big man up to his room while Brandis climbed up to his window.

The reunion between Algas and Brandis was anything but pleasant, and Vayne had the uneasy sense that she would have to step between them to keep Brandis from throttling Algas. This was not the Brandis she knew and respected, but one consumed with rage. The troll bodyguard chose that moment to begin pounding on Algas’s door, creating a distraction that let Algas attack unhindered. A vicious battle followed, in which Algas focused his wrath on Vayne, assuming she was Brandis’s woman.

The heroes ultimately triumphed over Algas and his goons, and they took the unconscious crime boss back to the githyanki ship for safe keeping. They interrogated him about Brandis’s old band of thieves, learning the location of several, including the halfling Henri in Sigil and a changeling (the leader) in Hestevar. The monk absorbed this information with cold focus: it seemed the heroes’ quest would take a broader path in the future. The heroes determined that holding Algas could prove dangerous considering his gang connections, and matters grew worse when (despite Vayne’s explicit instructions) Ruthchek “accidentally” killed Algas when he “tried to escape.”

The heroes realized they would have to expedite their search, so they did something unexpected and potentially deadly: they approached the quom to strike a deal. The quom would withdraw from the Shrapnels to allow the mutinous crew of the Chromium to surface. In return, Vayne promised she would turn them over under the strict assurance that the quom would try everything in their power to extract any motes of Lakal without harming them.

Vayne also called upon Sunic to keep an eye on the port, a task the elf found tedious but was more than willing to undertake in exchange for a smoldering kiss from his mistress. Ruthchek witnessed the moment between the illicit lovers and confronted Vayne about it. She asked the hobgoblin if he really wanted to talk about it just then, and he grunted an affirmative. Then she unbuttoned her leathers and repeated the question.

They tabled the discussion.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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8. Adrift among Silver Sharks
Of Mutineers, Ridiculous Scrapes, and a New Ship

After days spent trying to get the ship moving again, which masterly consisted of Ysabelle trying to attune to the helm, the heroes were still mostly becalmed. They could move at a snail’s pace toward their goal: the nearest color veil to the Shrapnels. This did not sit well with the crew, of course, and tensions rose on the ship that the new captains had unintentionally becalmed. Vayne took charge, owing to her experience as a pirate, but there was only so much she could do. Were it not for the fear inspired by Ysabelle’s powers and the heroes’ martial prowess, a mutiny might have broken out. Even so, unrest brewed among the crew.

Eventually, however, the heroes saw a githyanki pirate ship on the horizon, as well as an advance scout mounted on a red dragon. The scout landed on the deck of the spelljammer and insisted the heroes surrender their ship. Speaking for the ship, Vayne agreed, on the condition that the githyanki allow them and their crew to reach their destination first. The pirates refused, and battle was joined.

First, the heroes had to contend with the red dragon rider, which they managed to defeat in a fierce, bloody battle that cost the lives of several crewmen and left some of their ship in flames. Worse, the githyanki on the pirate ship were pursuing. As Vayne and Ysabelle worked together to coax more speed from the crippled spelljammer and Brandis directed the crew’s efforts to put out the fires, J’Div and Tristan kicked the dragon corpse off the deck and loaded the catapult with the dead githyanki. They attached a note to the scout—pinned to his chest with his own silver sword—that read: “What else ya got?” Then they fired him back to his own ship. If the githy had been pursuing cautiously before, they made up for it now with a fury.

Ultimately, flight proved impossible, as all had known it would. The pirates struck from above, leaping down with their telekinetic powers to board. The heroes fought off waves of soldiers and sailors, dispatching them with relative ease thanks to the support of their crew. A dragonborn githyanki—the first mate—alighted on the deck and immolated much of the crew with its fiery breath. Tristan strode forth to face him, dragon to dragon, and countered the gith’s fire breath with a jet of silver flame so intense it disintegrated both the pirate and a quarter of the conch-shaped spelljammer. The gith realized that they were out-matched by crazed opponents—if they were willing to do that to their own ship, one could only imagine the havoc they might wreak on the githyanki ship. They wheeled about to retreat.

At that point, however, it was too late. The spelljammer was too damaged for the heroes to move on, and the githyanki ship looked like their only escape route. Despite her orders to the contrary, Vayne saw the necessity of capturing the vessel, and so she openly wielded her silver sword—a relic to the githyanki—in order to provoke the pirates into continuing the fight. It worked, and the pirates hesitated to escape. Vayne and J’Div catapulted the ship’s anchor onto the githyanki ship, tethering the vessels. Tristan flew, Vayne teleported, and Brandis scurried along the chain to the other ship. There, the gith fought hard but were slain to a man. The navigator surrendered, and the heroes put him adrift in a lifeboat loaded up with the gith’s silver swords. (No sense making it worse by taking those relics.)

On the gith ship, they managed to reach the Shrapnels, where they noticed a Quom Lakal vessel that was clearly searching for the missing Chromium.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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7. The Hobgoblin’s Mistake
Of drunken hallucinations, nightmares, and cold, cold murder

At the tavern, Ysabelle—reeling from the awful power she had channeled—made the mistake of imbibing alcohol, lowering her mental strength. Funikashi appeared to her (rather than Brandis), and she was able to fend him off with the aid of her companions as well as a friendly dwarf drunkard named Thunderkeg. Without Vayne there to protect her, Ysabelle had to tap into her own inner strength, but ultimately she won the day.

Vayne returned the next day, seemingly depressed after her time in the Shadowfell. Her natural wit and charm turned into catatonic staring until Brandis struck her at her request. The sharp pain let her focus once more, and Vayne went immediately to Ysabelle. The girl might have expected a scolding for her reckless actions with Razor or at least that matters would grow tense between them. Instead, hugged her and apologized for abandoning her when Ysabelle needed her. “That was ill done,” she said, “it will never happen again.” She further vowed that she would always be exactly where Ysabelle needed her to be. Ysabelle forgave her, and they joined with the others.

That night, Ruthchek appeared in Sigil, looking for Vayne’s help. Apparently, the crew of the Chromium had mutinied, from which the hobgoblin had barely escaped with his life. He suspected they’d also consumed a trap he’d obtained for future use: a banquet laced with motes of Lakal, the destroyed home world of a pitiless planar race called the Quom. Were they to get their hands on the crew, they would surely kill them all horribly in order to acquire the pieces of their world, and probably they would destroy the Chromium as well just in case. This, Vayne could not stand, and she convinced the heroes to help her rescue the ship. The heroes—needing transport and a place they could not be so easily found—set off at once to find a berth to the Shrapnels, where Ruthchek thought the Chromium was being hidden.

They took a portal to a floating earthmore in the Astral Sea while waiting for their hired ship. During that night, Vayne had awful dreams about banderhobb—frog-like creatures of the Shadowfell that shadar-kai children are taught to fear. In her dream, the monsters attacked a girl that was both Vayne herself and also her lost daughter, Viridian. She awoke to find banderhobb attacking in actuality, and the heroes barely fought them off. It was disturbing, to see the connection between her dream and reality, but Vayne kept her silence on that point.

When the spelljammer showed up to take them to the Shrapnels, the reason it had come so cheap became obvious as soon as the heroes saw the curved conch shell shape of the ship and met its helmsman: a mind flayer. The equally disreputable captain claimed to have the creature under control, but the heroes learned the hard way that the mind flayer was dangerous in the extreme (and beyond their powers to defeat). They also discovered the captain was both a slaver and a smuggler. Wonderful.

Vayne called on Sunic for a favor, and the elf easily dispatched the mind flayer in the dead of night. He then disappeared, though not before he’d helped himself to the ship’s stash of treasure. The captain was furious at this misfortune, refusing to believe the heroes’ protestations of innocence. Ultimately, Tristan casually pushed him overboard, and the heroes had a new ship, albeit with a flaw: the helm would work for none but the dead mind flayer.

They were adrift.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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6. Strange Bedfellows
Of hidden affairs, former enemies become allies, and friends turned foes

Vayne’s affair with Sunic continued, obscured under Tristan’s very nose. Though the paladin had not returned yet, Vayne suspected he would not approve of her sleeping with his nemesis, so she asked Sunic for a secret means of communicating with him. He gave her a ring of shadow as a lover’s token: the ring enhanced her shadow jaunting powers and gave her a means by which she could teleport herself to his castle in the Shadowfell. Properly charged, the ring might transport the whole group there, a power Vayne resolved to remember for when it might prove necessary.

The heroes relaxed in the tavern in Sigil until Brandis—who grew increasingly weary—began seeing Funikashi in the common room. The crazed master attacked Brandis, but the monk managed to repel him. Shortly thereafter, the exiled Matsumura appeared, but rather than attack, he offered a truce. According to Matsumura, Funiksahi had grown mad with Far Realm influence long before Brandis gave him the book from the mad city. The master had sought out Ysabelle because of her great psionic potential, and it was for this reason Matsumura had wanted the girl dead—to keep Funikashi from using her. Now that Funikashi had the book, however, he no longer needed Ysabelle for a focus. Matsumura apologized for having sent assassins after Ysabelle—it was nothing personal, but only about the safety of the multiverse.

The heroes agreed on an alliance with Matsumura, and they collected funds to build a dojo in Sigil to serve as a safehouse, base of operations, and place to train monks in opposition to the corrupt House of the Dragon Tier. Finally, Matsumura invested Brandis as a master of the monastery, ending his many days of fasting. Grateful, Brandis could once again rest, and the rest of the heroes watched over him as he finally slept.

That done, the heroes finally turned to the matter of Razor’s warped arm. Driven slightly mad by the Far Realms influence, the goblin fought against their attempts to take him to the temple of the Raven Queen for treatment. Ultimately, he swore an oath to fell Ysabelle, which proved the last straw. Her dark side took over, and she destroyed Razor in a burst of psionic power that turned him inside out and blew him apart. The party watched in horror as the technique painted an angel from Razor’s blood and viscera.

The event fell particularly hard on Vayne, who had come to think of Ysabelle as a surrogate daughter. Unable to reconcile this awful display of power, Vayne called Sunic and disappeared into his shadowy embrace, despite Brandis’s attempts to calm her. She reassured Brandis and the others that she merely needed time. Sunic gave the monk a cold smile over Vayne’s shoulder, and the two of them vanished into the Shadowfell.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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5. Shadow’s Scion
Of rivalries past, a grueling fast ongoing, and a mysterious staff of power (also, hot shadar-kai on elf action)

The heroes escaped to Sigil, where they holed up in a tavern, licking their wounds. There, they rested from their travails—all except Brandis, who had sworn an oath not to sleep or eat until he had completed his final test. While the test was technically complete, he had not received the final investiture of wisdom and so he forced himself to remain awake and fasted for day after grueling day. During his ordeal, he worked to eliminate from his mind the tainted teachings of the book that had proved Funikashi’s downfall. During the process, his mind seemed to expand and a latent psionic talent to throw his senses manifested. He could project his eyes and ears far from himself, making him a natural spy.

Meanwhile, the elf Sunic lingered in the heroes’ proximity. He seemed interested particularly in Ysabelle, who reminded him of someone he knew, as well as Tristan, the son of two of his former companions. Apparently, Sunic had adventured with the elf paladin Linn (Tristan’s father), the silver dragon Elyse (Tristan’s mother), the wizard (Ellerin), and a few others. Tristan suspected Sunic had something to do with the disappearance of Linn, and had trouble keeping rein of his emotions around the sneaky elf. Ultimately, the paladin confronted Sunic despite his obvious trepidation, and they came quickly to harsh words and ultimately to blows.

The discussion revolved around the mysterious rod Tristan had been assembling, which had a name for the first time: the Gatekeeper Staff. This item had been shattered into seven pieces and scattered throughout the planes. Tristan’s quest involved reassembling it and finding a worthy successor to its wielder, Ruha (the Gatekeeper). Sunic speculated that Ysabelle (who had proved startling self-possessed for a seeming child) was in some way connected to Ruha. Aside from an uncanny physical resemblance corroborated by many accounts, Ysabelle seemed to demonstrate a strong affinity for the staff Ruha had wielded.

The magic of the staff held true: each of the pieces would lead to the next in the sequence, and it was by this mechanism that Sunic (who possessed the piece previous to Tristan’s) had tracked the heroes. Tristan suspected Sunic meant to steal his piece—a theory borne out when the elf insisted he take the pieces for safe keeping. A battle nearly ensued, from which Tristan fled through a portal to the mortal world of Toril to keep the staff from Sunic. (He would return shortly, having touched bases with his mother and decided to carry on the quest.)

Shortly thereafter, the remaining heroes found themselves in a fight with the elf, who they suspected of having done something to Tristan. Sunic held his own: he wore a cloak seemingly woven of shadows, which allowed him to vanish and strike from hiding, and wielded two wicked swords. Razor’s radiant powers proved extremely useful against Sunic, but it was not enough. The elf severely injured Vayne and nearly killed J’Div and Brandis before Ysabelle stepped forward to negotiate a ceasefire. Sunic gladly agreed.

The elf was about to leave before Vayne surreptitiously made her way to his room for a private word. Once there, she kissed him and whispered that no one had ever hurt her quite like he had. Then she disrobed.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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4. Madness like a Sickness
Of tests finished, spying conducted, and why you should never give a book of ultimate evil to your supposedly benevolent mentor

As the Chromium floated back toward the monastery, the heroes worked on a plan of entry that would not tip off Matsumura as to their activities. Ideas were advanced to have Brandis return alone, or all of the heroes but Vayne and Ysabelle, etc., and have Brandis claim that they had perished on the quest. Unfortunately, none of the heroes trusted everyone else enough to make such a split actionable.

The journey was not uneventful. Tristan fell into communion with his goddess, resulting in being bathed in silver fire that seemed to burn up magic. This caused some damage to the ship, which Vayne explained away as normal wear-and-tear for transporting folk in their profession. Tristan told the rest of the heroes that he was a chosen paladin of Mystra, a goddess of magic from a distant world. Vayne had heard of this goddess, but was under the impression she was long dead—indeed, that she had perished a hundred years ago. Tristan seemed perplexed and a little angered by this assertion, leading to an argument Vayne ultimately ceded.

In the confusion, one of Ruthchek’s scurvy pirates approached Ysabelle (alone in the guest cabin) with lecherous intentions, and by instinct she released the dark consciousness imbedded in her mind. The heroes next heard her screams of alarm and rushed to the cabin, only to find the place decorated with blood and festooned with the pirate’s guts. Ruthchek saw the place and was horrified, but Vayne distracted him by luring him away for a private moment.

The rest of the heroes made an effort to clean up the mess, and Razor immediately suggested they open a portal to the Far Realm (with the knowledge gained from the tome). Brandis particularly disagreed with this suggestion and the heroes dispersed from the area. Alone, Razor sneaked back into the cabin and opened a portal to the Far Realm in which to shovel the blood and guts. The plan was working well at first, but then his arm got stuck in the portal and when he finally managed to pull it out, it was a pink, sucker-covered mind flayer arm. He immediately tried to hide this, though the rest of the heroes discovered it in short order. The decision was made that the heroes would stay together, regardless of the consequences.

When they returned to the monastery (having left the Chromium in hiding), they found it in some chaos. Matsumura had fled the monastery, under suspicion of having murdered the third elder githzerai. Funiksahi seemed harried and not a little erratic, and he was perhaps displeased to see Brandis and the others returned. The heroes made themselves comfortable as guests again, but soon discovered Funikashi’s secret chambers which hosted a huge portal to the Far Realm. The monk came upon them and battle was joined. The heroes drove off Funikashi, but not before he roused the rest of the monks of the monastery against them.

A shadow from Tristan’s past—the elf rogue Sunic, who was a companion of Tristan’s father Linn—appeared and ushered the heroes through a portal to escape from the monastery before the monks could find them. They fled Funiksahi’s mocking laughter.

TO BE CONTINUED!

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