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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