The Gatekeeper

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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