The Gatekeeper

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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