The Gatekeeper

1. The Gathering, the Duel, and the Demons
On the origin of the Worldwalkers, Guardians of the Gatekeeper

This story is, as they all are, about a girl: Ysabelle. She’s a kalashtari girl with no clear path, no remembered past, and (if her enemies have their way) no living future. Which is where the rest of us come in, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The story begins in Sigil.

What a child was doing wandering the streets of such a dangerous city, no one could say, but soon enough she met a protector: the elf-blooded dragonborn paladin Tristan Evensong. Tristan was in Sigil for his own reasons, but he knew an important cause when he met one. Moved by his own sense of duty and honor, he swore to protect Ysabelle against whatever unknown dangers might be pursuing her.

And there were dangers.

Four others came to meet Ysabelle along their own means, for very different reasons. The former-thief-turned- monk Brandis was dispatched on a mission for his master Funikashi to find and protect Ysabelle, who held some measure of import to the monastery. Allied with him came the dangerous Razor, a goblin avenger sworn to the Raven Queen, goddess of Death, who served with Brandis for reasons of his own. The goblin more-or-less under his control, Brandis kept a firm purpose in mind: protect the girl at all costs.

Then came the mercenaries: the stormsoul genasi warlord J’Div and the shadar-kai swordmage Vayne, planar sellswords hired to find and return Ysabelle to a mysterious silver-haired patron. As it turned out, said patron was not interested in “protecting” Ysabelle, but they only had their suspicions at that point—besides, the life of a sellsword sometimes requires a little moral blindness.

The six converged on a lonely tavern in Sigil, all competing over a single interest: Ysabelle.

When the heroes first met, we sussed out very quickly that we were after the same thing. Tristan, who had no intention of giving up his ward, stood firm against Vayne and J’Div, who were poised to take her. Vayne convinced him to fight a duel over the girl. Whoever won would take Ysabelle, and the demands of honor would be met. The duel’s dishonorable beginning set the tone: Vayne immediately hurled her sword into Tristan’s face, which he barely parried away. For the rest of the duel, she used her guile and her shadar-kai abilities to best effect, absorbing Tristan’s greatest attacks into her shadow form and often teleporting where he couldn’t reach. Frustrated, Tristan struck again and again, and Vayne only laughed at the wicked wounds he dealt her.

It was a protracted fight, between the scrappy shadar-kai and the honorable paladin.
J’Div subtly supported Vayne, shouting inspiring words, while Ysabelle blasted Vayne with psychic attacks that she barely fended off. Meanwhile, Razor set a tracking spell upon her, so that he’d never lose her whatever happened, and Brandis positioned himself to grab her in the confusion. Ultimately, Vayne went down to one knee and feigned to yield, but when Tristan came forward to help her up, she kneed him between the legs; an underhanded strike absorbed by his thick codpiece. Clearly, he’d fallen prey to that particular trick before and wasn’t about to suffer it again. He responded to that by smacking Vayne in the face hard enough to draw blood, which made her giddy in the way only a shadar-kai might become at great pain.

Ysabelle herself called a halt to the duel before it could properly end. The six adjourned to a room in the tavern, where they discussed matters. Tristan interpreted the duel as having ended in his favor, so he kept custody of Ysabelle, but Vayne argued that the duel hadn’t properly ended, and they still had unfinished business. Until then, their interests aligned, so she and J’Div would go along with them and protect Ysabelle. They’d proved themselves effective protectors thus far, so Tristan agreed uneasily.

Before the full details could be determined, a flock of vrocks and other demons arrived, seeking to take Ysabelle for themselves. The heroes set aside their differences to work together to destroy the threat, but the demons kept coming. Worse, a hulking goristro appeared, which tore apart the tavern to get at the girl. A tiefling (one of the patrons) appeared and offered a way out: a portal upstairs Brandis and Razor took Ysabelle while Tristan and Vayne covered the retreat, with J’Div offering healing support to both sides. The oddly matched shadar-kai and elf-dragon proved an excellent team, covering the heroes’ retreat. Of particular note was Vayne’s magic summoning a dimensional vortex to turn a goristro’s attack from Brandis to one of the vrocks.

The heroes hurried through the portal, finding themselves in a fiery tunnel through the Elemental Chaos. They fought their way across, only to awaken deep under water . . .

TO BE CONTINUED!

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2. Dust and Fire
Delving an ancient, ruined city of madness and a world of fire

The heroes found themselves in a deep well of dark water.

Fumbling and flailing for the surface, they reconnoitered and determined they were in a far removed world from where they began that day. Surrounding them were the walls of a dusty crypt, a place that hadn’t been touched in centuries.

They spent a few moments conversing, though not to much effect, due mostly to their conflicting interests as regards Ysabelle. Vayne spoke on behalf of herself and J’Div: they’d been hired to “rescue” the girl, and she meant to hold up her end of the bargain. Tristan countered this, saying they would only take Ysabelle over his senseless or dead body, and Vayne replied with “a girl likes a challenge.” Brandis defused the situation before it could get any worse, saying that they had to work together to find a way out of that dead place, and a tentative agreement was reached. The look between Vayne and Tristan made it clear more than words would be exchanged.
As would become a pattern of behavior with him, Razor triggered an ancient defensive ward in attempting to find his way out of the crypt, summoning rock-like guardians that seemed loath to attack Ysabelle (but happily mauled the rest of the heroes). When she connected with their minds briefly, Ysabelle had the sense whatever was controlling them thought it could connect with her in some way. The heroes vanquished their foes, but the unease lingered. Rest did not come easily in that place, and the heroes’ sleep was shattered with dark and violent visions, particularly for Ysabelle, who woke screaming every few hours.

After a bad night (or day, there was no way to tell), the heroes pressed on into what turned out to be a vast, uninhabited subterranean city. There was no sign of anything alive in that place, though the heroes had the constant sense they were being watched. Ysabelle’s mental connection grew, until she became aware of a mental presence in the city that sought to draw her to it. It began to speak with her, asking her to join it in a central temple. The crystal was vague about the origins of the city, saying its inhabitants had gone silent long ago, and that “the world above” was a fiery horror.

In a basement, the heroes discovered a set of ancient books, including (in an unbreakable magic box) a tome that appeared to be bound in human (or something like it) flesh. Entering this chamber invited an attack from shadowy creatures (remnants of the city’s former inhabitants) but the heroes handily chased them off. Called the “One True Vision” (or something the like, Deep Speech doesn’t translate well into Common), the book was a treatise on all things aberrant and the Far Realm. Within its pages lay secrets to drawing upon the power of madness. The heroes took turns reading the book, but for Ysabelle, who wanted nothing to do with it. The hero it most affected was Brandis, who had received his training at a githzerai monastery and was used to mental discipline. This intrigued the heroes, particularly Vayne who speculated that she would have tagged him as a thief at first glance. This proved truer than anyone suspected.

Shortly after locating the book, the heroes found a temple with a gleaming gold disk embedded in the floor. The temple appeared to be to some sort of aberrant deity, as the great statue in the center depicted a squid-headed creature all of us could identify but didn’t dare name. Ysabelle did the honors, though none could say where she came by the knowledge: Mind Flayer.

The room had an odd effect on Tristan, who got a feverish gleam in his eye and searched his pack for a short rod of steel that looked like a piece of a staff. None knew its purpose, but it appeared clearly magical. He fell into communion with the rod and it pointed toward the disk, where he insisted ‘the next piece’ lay waiting. The heroes worked to remove the golden disk, only to trigger a trap that landed them in a 3-dimensional fight with a gibbering mouther. When they defeated the creature and found their way out of the trap (mostly thanks to Brandis, whose disciplined mind solved the puzzle quickly), they found themselves back in the temple, where another battle ensued, which they also won. The disk removed, they found another length of rod, which Tristan promptly set to his first piece, making them bond instantly. He stated his desire to find the next piece—that is his quest, it seems.

The heroes spent that “night” under the vigilance of their mental companion: a massive, intelligent crystal that glowed at the heart of the underground city. Though the entity was clearly not to be trusted, the heroes made peace with it long enough to rest from their battles. That was until Razor provoked it by attempting to smite it with his sword, causing it to summon a frost beholder and four foulspawn hulks. A mighty battle ensued, wherein the betrayed crystal sought to take over Ysabelle by replacing her mind with its own. The heroes barely defeated the creature, only to open a rift to the Far Realm beneath it. Promptly, the portal began to suck anything and everything nearby into it, including all the shadows of the city’s former inhabitants. The heroes waded out through the stream of shadow, their vitality draining away as they went. Vayne, who had a strong resistance to shadow thanks to her shadar-kai blood, protected Ysabelle as best she could, sacrificing some of her vitality to help her (and the others) escape.

When it was over, the city lay in ruins, but at least the awful menace that had attempted to steal Ysabelle’s mind and soul was defeated. With nowhere else to go, the heroes discerned the location of the nearest portal off the world (thanks to Brandis’ planar astrolabe), which lay upon the surface, and set out in that direction. They hadn’t gone up through more than a couple tunnels before the air about them started to heat up. A colony of bats that were as much fire as flesh attacked them, but the heroes valiantly fought them off. Vayne’s swordmagic proved especially useful in paralyzing the firebats long enough for the others to kill them, lest they take advantage of their superior mobility.

When they arrived on the surface, the heroes found themselves in a hellish world indeed. The Elemental Chaos was bleeding into the world—mostly forces of fire and earth—and it left the surface a burnt cinder. The heroes pressed on toward the portal, though they knew they would need help to make it through this harsh landscape.

Help soon arrived in the form of a volcanic dragon—a terrifying beast whose insides coursed with super-heated magma—which at first attacked, then opted to bargain with the heroes. Its egg, it claimed, had been stolen, and if the heroes retrieved said treasure, the dragon would take them to the portal it knew of. This the heroes did—and the dragon kept up its end of the bargain—only to discover the truth of the dragon’s claim: the egg did not belong to that wyrm, but rather to a bigger, older, and more powerful volcanic dragon who soon enough was on their trail. They laid an ambush for the elder wyrm and fought it to a standstill, at which point they made a new bargain: they would return the egg if the older dragon carried them to the portal, and (of course) if the older dragon would kill the younger, treacherous one. The dragon agreed, slew the thieving dragon, and (pleased with the heroes’ ruthlessness) carried them to their goal: a volcano filled with fire giants and elemental archons.

Fortunately, the heroes had planned a distraction: they secreted the egg among the giants and archons, prompting the dragon to rampage through their ranks and kill as many as got in its way. In the confusion, the heroes were able to slip through, find the portal, and take it away from that awful place.

To Be Continued!

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3. Contemplation and Treachery
Of honorable tests, deep treacheries, and past pain shared

The heroes emerged through the portal only to find the Pandemonium Stone: a floating mountain of a castle that appears randomly in both space and time. J’Div took off running toward the stone for a then-unknown purpose, and Vayne immediately ran after him. The rest of the party hesitated, but Vayne cried out that if J’Div reached the stone, he would vanish along with it forever. The heroes managed to restrain the genasi before he could reach the stone, and it vanished, sending them all flying with a shockwave of force. They managed to fly or teleport to the ground safely. Though the stoic J’Div passed it off as no concern, Vayne’s act in thwarting him shook their relationship deeply (or at least so Vayne believed).

Upon looking around, the heroes found themselves in the Elemental Chaos near the Dragon Tear monastery, where Brandis had been trained. The githzerai monks of the monastery welcomed them openly as friends, and Brandis reunited with his old master, the elderly githzerai Funikashi—one of three ruling masters and the one who had sent him to find and protect Ysabelle in the first place. The two of them fought a friendly sparring match, at the end of which they retired for a private moment in which Brandis gave unto Funikashi the “One True Vision” (or, as the rest of the party had taken to calling it, the “Tome of Pure Thought”) they had acquired in the underworld realm. Funikashi promised to keep it safe. Meanwhile, the rest of the heroes made themselves comfortable in the monastery. J’Div and Vayne sparred, as was their wont. Tristan stuck close to Ysabelle at all times, and the girl was fascinated by the philosophies of the monks. Razor’s natural curiosity and mischievous streak got the better of him, but the monks easily kept tabs on his attempts to sneak about.

At the monastery, they also met a suspicious silver-haired monk called Matsumura (the second ruling master), who Vayne recognized as her employer to kidnap Ysabelle. The third ruling master was absent under suspicious circumstances. Vayne drew Brandis aside and told him that if she ever acted strangely or he was concerned for her sanity, he should utter two words: “Viridian” and “Chromium” in her presence. It had to be him, however, as he was the one she most trusted. She told him that he would know when to use the words. The monk didn’t understand what she meant, but agreed. Thereafter, Vayne met in secret with Matsumura to arrange for their betrayal. He paid her a large sum of gold in exchange for killing Brandis, Tristan, and Razor, and bringing Ysabelle back unharmed. Vayne handled it all with icy detachment and complete believability.

Before the quest to rescue Ysabelle, Brandis had been poised to complete his training in the githzerai way, and Funikashi offered him the final step: to claim the “last breath” of a storm dragon in the Elemental Chaos. The group undertook this quest without hesitation, climbing about the skyship Chromium that the monks provided for the journey. Not coincidentally, the crew of the Chromium formerly called Vayne their captain in her days of Astral Sea piracy. Currently, the ship was commanded by Vayne’s old first mate (and lover) Ruthchek, a gruff, dirty, but very strong hobgoblin. She immediately gave him hell for even taking “her” ship into the Elemental Chaos, as well as hiring a crew of scurvy sea dogs, rather than their much superior crew they’d had before. The two of them bickered and almost fought upon their reunion, but ultimately the party got underway.

They fought their way through the dragon’s lair in the clouds and, in a harrowing battle made worse by the aura of swirling storm around it, slew the creature and captured its last breath in a receptacle made for that purpose. On their way back to the Chromium, Razor grew increasingly apprehensive around Brandis, particularly when they were ambushed by some of the monks from the monastery. The heroes quickly defeated the foes, even when one of them summoned an air elemental to capture Ysabelle (Vayne saved her). Afterward, the monk and the avenger came to blows when Razor swore his oath of vengeance upon Ysabelle, thinking that she was a danger to all of them.

Vayne seized the moment to escort Ysabelle back to the ship, along with J’Div and Tristan, where Ruthchek pushed off from the cloud-isle and commanded his men (and the two monks escorting them) to seize the girl. Vayne instructed that Tristan be seized but not harmed unless he fought back. The betrayal might have gone smoothly had not Brandis and Razor returned and leaped desperately onto the trailing ropes to the ship. Brandis spoke the words Vayne had told him, and both she and Ysabelle were immediately flooded with memories that reversed their course of action. Weeping and glad at the same time (she actually kissed Brandis when he arrived safely on the ship), Vayne helped the others seize control of the Chromium and dispatch the two treacherous monks. Ruthchek, being inclined to side with Vayne—and more importantly, upon seeing the potency of the heroes—pragmatically chose to become their ally rather than their enemy.

Thereafter, Vayne explained that she had hatched a scheme with Ysabelle and her psionic powers to “program” herself to betray the party into Matsumura’s hands. After she had recognized him at the monastery, she had known that he meant to have Ysabelle killed and the only way to keep her alive—and to let Vayne find out more about Matsumura’s scheme—was to make him believe she was still in control and the plan was still progressing as discussed. Ysabelle wiped many of Vayne’s memories (including her growing maternal relationship with Ysabelle) and turned her into a conniving, cold-hearted traitor (which, admittedly, was not too difficult), then wiped her own memories of the incident. This way, Vayne would smoothly convince Matsumura that she had the girl well in hand and would arrange for the deaths of the rest of the party on the expedition. If/when everyone survived, Vayne would operate under the assumption that Matsumura would need to keep all of them alive for the moment. They both labored under a post-hypnotic suggestion to “wake up” and remember everything when Brandis (and only Brandis) spoke the passwords Vayne had told him about. The scheme hadn’t succeeded in full (since Brandis had tripped the suggestion early), but at least they’d got out of the monastery safely. Now they could return at their leisure.

As the Chromium was returning to the monastery, Brandis approached Vayne for a private discussion. The shadar-kai was weeping quietly at the prow of the skyship, which stole a bit of the furious castigation Brandis was going to give her for an ill-thought out plan. He cleared his throat, offering her a chance to compose herself. Then he admitted the efficacy of the plan, though informed her that he would have appreciated it if she had been forthright with him. Vayne explained that she was concerned Matsumura or one of his allies would be able to mental scry all of them, and if anyone had known about the plan, it wouldn’t have worked, but she promised to make more of an effort to trust him.

Brandis shared with her a revelation about his past: he was a former thief until his former colleagues betrayed him during a heist from the Thousand Fists monastery for an item called the Dragon Tear Sword. They cut the rope he was climbing, allowing him to plunge three hundred feet seemingly to his death. The benevolent monks took him in, repaired his body, and trained him in a new path. His quest, when he leaves the monastery after having completed his test, is to find the sword and restore it to its rightful place. In turn, Vayne told Brandis about her own past: that she was once a sworn bodyguard in Gloomwrought, but had killed her master out of vengeance for her murdered daughter, Viridian. She turned ronin and fled the city, leaving everyone there to believe her dead along with her master. Brandis inquired as to whether he could truly trust her with regard to Ysabelle, and Vayne asked: “You heard the part about the dead daughter, right?” To that, the monk nodded.

They shook hands, resolved that while they might not always see eye to eye, they would at least attempt to trust each other and work together.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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