The Gatekeeper

23. Darkness in the Depths
Of an Undead Dragon, a Shadowborn Wizard, and Storming a Tower

The dracolich struck the heroes hard, breathing forth a cloud of shadow that blew the vitality and strength from their bodies. Vayne had the sense to throw a protective black sigil over the creature, draining its strength even as it attacked. Thus the heroes weathered the attack well enough, but found that dark wraiths sprang up from the pieces of their souls burned off in the assault. Most of the wraiths looked like mere shadows, with two exceptions: Vayne’s wraith resembled her shadow self perfectly, and Tristan’s wraith looked like a gleaming silver-and-blue woman of unearthly beauty. It was, to him, a vision of his dead goddess, albeit with immortal hatred in her mad eyes.

Bakkonn moved to heal the heroes from the strike, but Brandis unexpectedly struck him a resounding blow. The dragon’s mighty will had bored into his mind, dominating him and turning him against his fellows. As the monk halted the heroes’s charge, the dragon gave a rattling laugh through its fleshless throat and took off, borne aloft by great bone wings. With Bakkonn’s magic, Brandis managed to fight off the dragon’s dominating will, but the creature instinctively probed at all of the heroes’ minds throughout the battle. It seized hold of Vayne and forced her to attack Ysabelle, but the shadar-kai’s love for the girl was strong enough that she resisted and foiled her own attack. Enraged at what the dragon had almost caused her to do, Vayne teleported up to the creature, shattered its mind with a strike of her swordmagic, then teleported back to the ground, landing in a crouch as the creature slammed into the stone behind her.

Downed and stunned, the creature took a moment to collect its wits again (while Brandis and Tristan tried to strike it effectively, then turned its dominating will upon the mortal that had dared smite it from the sky: Vayne. Ysabelle cried out in warning, but in the grip of its will Vayne dropped her defenses and did not resist as the dragon’s claws burrowed into her body and she spewed blood. Then the dragon hurled her into a previously unseen patch of what looked like liquid darkness on the ground. In her shadowed state, Vayne could see the darkness for what it was: a ravenous void that drained the life of creatures within it. The greedy blackness tore at her vitality, leaving her on the brink of death.

Fortunately, Bakkonn’s magic came to the rescue, healing Vayne before the dragon could finish her off. Bolstered by his power and Tristan’s divine mettle, the wounded shadar-kai managed to fight off the dragon’s will long enough to limp out of the void pool. No sooner had she done so, however, than a spell burst in their midst, knocking the heroes staggering. A new threat had emerged: a dark wizard sniping at the heroes from the cliff side where none could easily reach him. To make matters worse, the dragon renewed his breath weapon and loosed it on the group.

Tristan, Bakkonn, and Brandis focused on the dragon, leaving Ysabelle and Vayne to deal with the wizard. Tristan hit the beast with silver fire and Brandis continually struck it with his ki-charged fists and his cane. Among the three of them (and Vayne’s aegis magic), they managed to drive the creature off, then destroy it before it could escape. The dragon’s last words before it turned to dust were a promise that it would rise again. As the creature fell, Vayne cried out, drawing their attention to the other half of the battle.

Vayne and Ysabelle fared not nearly as well against the wizard. His magic and the lingering dracolich’s will kept Vayne paralyzed, and she could do nothing but watch as the wizard struck hard against Ysabelle. When the girl fell to her knees, Vayne could only rage against the magic imprisoning her. The wizard mostly laughed at Ysabelle’s attempts to strike him, parrying her magic with ease. Finally, when the wizard conjured a floating claw that ripped open Ysabelle’s midsection, and Vayne summoned enough fury to move. It was then that the dragon fell, distracting the wizard, who suddenly saw the battle turning against him. In his distraction, he let the imprisoning magic fade from Vayne, and she leaped up the cliff side, teleporting up to pursue him. The wizard retreated through a magical gate in the rock. Before he could close it—even as the words were on his lips—Vayne struck him with her silver sword, banishing him temporarily to a demiplane.

Her victory was short-lived, however, as the wizard’s two bodyguards—bodaks clad in black plate armor—surged through the gate and attacked. Vayne faced them, staring them down warily, then struck. She hit and disoriented one, but the second parried her. Then she teleported back off the cliff and rolled to her feet, joining the rest of the heroes below. The bodaks hurled themselves from the cliff and rushed the group, but the dragon had been dealt with and all five of the heroes could join forces against them. They handily dispatched the bodaks, but were then left with a dilemma: what to do about the wizard? Vayne recognized the man as Maren Black, a powerful wizard from Gloomwrought who had the ear of Prince Rolan, ruler of that city. No doubt he would not want the powerful church of the Raven Queen to know he wielded powers over undead, and Vayne said she wouldn’t put it past him to track them down to end their potential threat.

Ultimately, the heroes decided that instead of leaving a potentially deadly enemy at their back, they would treat with the wizard to see if a peaceful resolution could be reached and they could part without fighting one another. To this end, they followed the trail of the wizard’s power, up a rocky cliff covered with the bones of what could only have been previous enemies of the wizard. Two nightwalkers surprised the heroes on the cliff, but were handily dispatched through Bakkonn’s divine magic and some ferocious fighting on the part of the heroes.

Brandis continued to be reckless beyond measure, wandering into his second ambush of the day. The party attempted to convince him to exercise caution, but he scoffed at the suggestion, and immediately walked into a warding that paralyzed him temporarily. Vayne and Ysabelle were able to suppress the power of the wards long enough for the rest of the party to get through, but the tail end of the magic caught Ysabelle, rendering her helpless as a flopping fish. Triggered by the heroes’ proximity, a bone golem pulled itself together out of the surroundings and attacked. They dispatched the creature, though not without difficulty as Brandis and Ysabelle were still fighting off the paralysis.

After a long trek to get to the wizard’s holdfast, they recognize a symbol of death carved on the locked door, which would activate upon any who opened it without invitation. They addressed the doors, which took on the wizard’s semblance. For the destruction of his golems, Maren Black insisted the heroes owed him a great debt—50,000 gp to be precise. The party balked at this, saying that they were attacked first, and now he is charging them for defending themselves from his minions. He offered an alternative arrangement, which was to take one of their lives instead. Vayne attempted to negotiate with him, offering to perform a service out of their good faith, but the wizard refused the offer. He asked Vayne repeatedly who she was, but the swordmage said nothing of the issue (he might potentially have recognized her, though she’d been gone from Gloomwrought more than 20 years). Ysabelle attempted to intimidate the wizard, resulting only in him stating that it would be his mission in life to hunt her down and destroy her. This was too much for the heroes, who decided (for better or worse) that Maren Black would have to die. Ysabelle opened his doors with the Gatekeeper Staff, and the battle was on.

The heroes immediately found themselves attacked by four disintegration turrets, which nearly demolished Brandis. Working together (and with considerable help from Bakkonn’s healing magic), they were able to get inside and disable the turrets, only to find themselves confronted with a summoning circle that loosed dread wraiths upon them. They slew these creatures as well and deactivated the circle, confident in their ability to defeat any of Maren Black’s attempts to destroy them.

What awaits next?


22. A Traitor Revealed
Of Mind Flayers, Allies Slain and Gained, and a Last Parting

The battle was joined, with the heroes fighting desperately against the psychic superiority of the mind flayers. One illithid in particular proved very effective at asserting his will over the heroes, forcing his mind upon them whenever they managed to shake off his power. He kept Brandis at bay, holding his mind like a vice as the monk tried to wriggle free. The drow plunged his blades down at Brandis, but the monk managed to dodge around his strikes.

Meanwhile, Henri strolled up to Ysabelle and convinced her he was not one of the enemies, but only pretending to be a mindslave. She fell for his bluff, only to earn a blade in the stomach, from which blood leaked. Furious, Vayne used her magic to pulled Ysabelle away just in time to avoid Henri’s follow-up strike. Tristan strode forward and summoned his silver fire, which went wild and blasted not only all the foes, but also himself and Fiona’s cover, making the wall melt and crumble under its attack.

Vayne teleported across the battlefield, using the shadows to corral the enemies into one of the corridors where she could hold them at bay. This would have worked wonders, had not her mind been weakened by the constant barrage of voices she heard in her head—the whispers of someone long lost to her—which allowed one of the mind flayers to stun her. She fell to her knees, helpless before the drow’s poisoned blades and—far worse—the mind flayer’s tentacles, which began digging into her skull for her brain.

Matters grew worse: one of the mind flayers blasted into Fiona’s mind and made her strike herself with her fire magic, burning a hole through her midsection. As she stood stunned at the ferocity of the hellfire, Henri followed it up with a vicious thrust into her right lung. Fiona faltered, hovering on death’s door.

Fortunately, Brandis and Tristan came to the rescue from two sides, the monk thwarting Vayne’s would-be slayers with his impressive movement skills, and Tristan protecting Ysabelle and Fiona. Brandis knocked away the mind flayer that was feasting on his companion, allowing her to recover—only to face the Thoon Hulk, which tried to eat her as well. She had the wherewithal to escape this time, however, teleporting over to cut the lead mind flayer’s silver cord with her silver sword, banishing him to a nether realm while the fight progressed. The other mind flayer blasted her with another mind attack, and she fell back, dazed. The Hulk slunk off into the shadows.

A healing touch roused Fiona, who promptly blasted the drow to ash, but faced a dominated Tristan, who was operating at the beck and call of the mind flayer. He brought his axe down into her, putting her down once again. Hurting his ally gave him the angry strength to fight off the mind flayer’s influence, however, and when the Thoon Hulk came barreling out of the caves, it was a furious half-dragon, half-elf paladin he had to contend with, rather than a half-dead tiefling. The creature tried to knock him aside, but he smote it back and extended his divine power to help Vayne shake off the mind flayer’s assault. She stepped closer, encompassing the group in her protective warding.

The heroes fought their way into a tight group, repelling the attacks of their multitude of foes: the hulk, Henri, and a single mind flayer. Fiona thirsted for revenge against Henri, who had stabbed her nearly to death with his blades, but Brandis insisted the group not kill him.

Henri bluffed his way into striking Vayne, remarking that “there’s a shortage of perfect breasts in the world,” to which she replied “and you won’t be ruining these any time soon” and parried his attacks. He managed to jab her with a blade that came out of his boot, and blood seeped from the wound. Wracked in pain, Vayne jaunted into her shadow form and began talking to someone the others could not see, saying “I’m sorry,” and “I didn’t mean it. I couldn’t stop him!”

Unnerved even in the depths of his mindslavery, Henri hurried over to strike Ysabelle. Vayne shrieked in terror and screamed “Not again! I won’t lose her again!” When Henri struck out at Ysabelle’s throat, Vayne invoked a warding sigil around him and sent him across to attack the remaining mind flayer. The blow would have killed the creature, but it lashed out with its mind and turned Henri’s blade on himself. The halfling opened his own throat with a vicious strike, and his blood flew across the battlefield.

The mind flayer blasted everyone with an illusion of barbed tentacles, seemingly paralyzing them. Ysabelle lashed out at the creature, but it teleported away before her psychic attack could take root. Brandis fought off the illusion and rushed over to strike the mind flayer. As before, it pulled Henri into the blow, and Brandis sacrificed a sure strike for the sake of avoiding a deathblow. Vayne drew the mind flayer close, so that the heroes could attack it, but at that moment, a twist drew their attention: Fiona purposefully and maliciously burned Henri to death before Brandis’s eyes.

In the moment of shock, the mind flayer grasped Vayne’s face with its tentacles and sought to dig out her brain. Brandis watched as Henri fell, dead, and turned his wrath on Fiona. He shoved the mind flayer away (freeing Vayne in the process) and struck Fiona with his ki energy, knocking her senseless. Seizing upon Brandis’s rage, the mind flayer forced its mind into his, taking control of his body. Under its command, Brandis brought down his fist to crush Fiona’s skull, but—as fate would have it—missed when she rolled just wide. Tristan cut the mind flayer down with his axe, breaking the mind control, and the fight was over. The paladin also healed Fiona with a healing potion, and she sputtered back into wakefulness.

The party stood for a moment, staring at Brandis, who stared murderously at Fiona. Vayne drew upon her protective magic to wrap her aegis around Brandis and held out her hand toward him. “Don’t do it, Brandis,” she said. “Don’t—” But it was too late. The monk exploded into motion, first kicking Vayne in the chest to knock her aside, then twisting around Tristan to knock Ysabelle senseless with a gentle tap. The paladin lashed out with his axe, but Brandis eluded the blow and vanished. He reappeared standing over Fiona, and Vayne used her shadow infused protective magic to sap his strength so he could not kill her. Vayne pleaded with him to think about what he was doing—that he was declaring them all his enemies—but the monk would not listen to reason. His eyes burned with the need to avenge his former friend.

Tristan healed Fiona, then struck at Brandis, but his shadow cloak enveloped him and he came after Fiona again. This time, she could defend herself, and managed to strike him with her fire magic. Brandis staggered, and Vayne and Tristan barely managed to knock him down. They stood panting over his unconscious form, nearly sapped of all strength. Tristan immediately set to checking his wounds, confident the fight was over, but Vayne wiped blood from her face, turned to Fiona, and informed the tiefling that the time had come for her to leave. Fiona was startled, but Vayne explained that there was no way she could travel with Brandis anymore, and Vayne had sworn to protect her—something she could not do if she remained. Ysabelle, sick about what was going to happen next, fled into the caves, where Garal Kai tried to convince her to leave with him—to escape her clearly insane companions. The girl refused, and the genasi fled by himself.

Fiona challenged Vayne that cutting her loose in the lowerdark in her current state was as good as a death sentence, but Vayne remained adamant. She put her aegis over Fiona and warned her that if she took an offensive move, she and Tristan would not hesitate to cut her down. The tiefling paused, considering, then shook her head. They were forcing this choice upon her. She summoned her power to kill Brandis, but Vayne cut her down with two swift strikes of her silver katana. The tiefling crumpled to the ground, bleeding to death. Vayne gave Tristan a long, poignant look, and said “Do what you have to do.” Then she left to go find Ysabelle, who had hid and seemed catatonic. She saw Garal Kai briefly, but there were no words exchanged—none needed to be. Vayne found Ysabelle and reassured her that they hadn’t meant to scare her—they were making the best out of a bad situation. The girl managed to respond, and Vayne hugged her close and covered her ears so she would not hear what Tristan did next. He hauled away the unconscious Brandis and turned to blast Fiona as she lay dying, putting her out of her misery in a gout of lightning and frost.

As Vayne wept quietly, Ysabelle hugged her back.

The heroes regrouped shortly thereafter, and Brandis regained consciousness of his own accord to find Vayne leaning hurt against the wall, Tristan searching the bodies of the dead, and Ysabelle gazing at Fiona’s charred remains. The monk apologized for attacking them, saying that he could not let them do what they were doing. Vayne smiled crookedly and said, “Likewise, and for the same reason.” The monk frowned, not understanding. Vayne put a hand on his shoulder and said, “you are a good man, Brandis, but if you had murdered Fiona, then you would be something less than that.” Tristan and Ysabelle nodded their agreement. The monk nodded, touched that they thought so highly of him.

The aftermath of Fiona’s death was not without its own unsettling flair. Finally, her body burned away in purple flames, revealing the sigil of Cyric branded upon her chest. The heroes heard her crying out for mercy as the dark god claimed her soul, and they realized what had come to pass. In the previous days, when Fiona had seemingly lost her powers, it was because the God of Lies had slain her primordial patron and taken his place. He’d offered her a new pact: serve him as a spy on the Gatekeeper in return for her powers restored. Ultimately, they realized, Fiona would have taken the completed Gatekeeper Staff and used it to free Cyric from his prison. Whether Fiona meant it or not, when she had decided to fight them, that had been a noble choice, in a sense—sacrificing herself rather than going through with Cyric’s schemes. “So,” Tristan observed, “I suppose that turned out for the best.”

Any further rumination the heroes might have done was cut short, however, when cries of pain from the mind flayer prison caught their attention. Inside, they found a halfling bound upon a table, cut open and showing signs of having been experimented upon. The surgeries to enhance his limbs and skeleton appeared to have been in progress when the heroes attacked the mind flayers, leaving the halfling in considerable pain. They finally calmed him (with the pommel of Vayne’s sword) long enough that they could heal him, and when he came to, he was able to speak, he introduced himself as: “The name’s Bakkonn. ’Cuz I bring it home.” Wary of taking a new and clearly unstable companion, the heroes nevertheless welcomed Bakkonn into their number, as they couldn’t very well leave him in the lowerdark.

The heroes took stock of their situation: Fiona was dead, Garal Kai (their guide) was gone, and Bakkonn (new and crazed) had joined them. They were very weary after the battle with the mind flayers—particularly Tristan, who had spent so much of himself in the silver fire blasts—but they couldn’t very well rest in the illithids’ territory. Instead, they decided to go back the way they had come, through the area of shadowdark, and find shelter on the other side. The trek was grueling and caused both Ysabelle and Tristan to injure themselves in their weariness.

They had been traveling for some hours when Tristan heard a familiar voice say “all too easy.” The heroes turned to find Sunic among them. The elf had been following them since they initially entered the shadowdark, and had chosen just this moment to steal the Orb of Reality. In his arrogance, he paused to appraise us, and Tristan launched into a diatribe against him, which Sunic did not expect. The heroes revealed that they had bigger concerns—namely, Cyric was in the process of being freed, and he was going to come for that Orb when he had the chance. The heroes tried to convince Sunic to aid them, but he said instead that they would part ways and he would trouble them no more. Expressing genuine concern for his well-being (also a surprise to Sunic and everyone else), Vayne pleaded with him to reconsider, saying that if he took the Orb, she guaranteed it would be the death of him. Sunic considered this, then smiled slightly and said something that made her flinch: “See you in a moment, Vayne.” He was referring, of course, to her doppelganger, whom he had openly declared his ally. Then he vanished.

The heroes decided there was nothing they could do about Sunic just then, so they pressed on, hoping for shelter. What they found instead was a cave filled with poison gas and some sort of dark entity. They backtracked and rested just outside the cave, but inside the shadowdark. The gloom of the Shadowfell infused them, making Bakkonn jittery, Brandis recklessly confident, and Vayne sluggish and disinterested. Ysabelle and Tristan were also affected, but they hid their conditions far better.

The halfling and monk went on ahead, into the cave filled with poison mist. They found there a dracolich, which Brandis (in his Shadowfell addled state) could not help but insult with his bravado. Once again, when Vayne, Tristan, and Ysabelle rejoined their companions, it was into a battle.


21. Gloom of the Shadowdark
Of Guides Lost, Seeping Darkness, and Ancient Powers

The heroes pressed on, only to find themselves walking through increasingly oppressive gloom. Without knowing it, they had entered into the Shadowdark—the Shadowfell’s equivalent of the Underdark—and the darkness of the world of shadows seeped into their minds and souls. Brandis became paranoid and possessive while Vayne became quarrelsome and muttered to herself once again, as she had in the Lowerdark. Tristan spent most of his time in communion with Mystra, while Fiona clung to Morthos as though she would fall without his support. Garal Kai grew even more distrusting of the others, and Morthos himself grew angry—even wrathful. In short, the gloom heightened everyone’s insecurities and flaws of character. Only Ysabelle was unaffected by the gloom, and she grew extremely uneasy if, for once, she was the sane one.

This oppression led immediately to tragedy: Morthos stared menacingly at Garal Kai, looking to plant a dagger in his back. Morthos told Fiona that she was better than all of the heroes and she no longer needed them. When the tiefling argued that they were useful and even her friends, the drow cast her off to collapse to the ground. Brandis lightly pushed him away from Garal, and the drow immediately blasted him with his warlock powers. Before the rest of the party could intervene, the two were fighting. Brandis pushed Morthos off a nearby cliff but when he tried to catch him, he missed the grab. The enraged drow plummeted into the impenetrable darkness. Vayne shoved Brandis and almost knocked him off the cliff as well, but the monk caught himself on the stone. The two of them looked about to fight, but at that moment the rest of the party intervened and pulled them apart.

After Ysabelle’s plea for sanity, Vayne finally shook off her irrational temper and explained the Shadowfell’s effects to the heroes. She said that the shadar-kai fight against the gloom of the Shadowfell by committing themselves fully to their course of action. They staved off ennui through emotional extremes, pain, and violence. She urged everyone to throw themselves into battle whole-heartedly, and that way they could stave off the Shadowfell’s gloom. Afterward, she apologized to Brandis and told him she did not hold him responsible for pushing Morthos off the cliff. The monk nodded mutely, but it was clear he still blamed himself. Vayne gave him a reassuring hug.

Garal Kai had fled after what happened to Morthos, but the group quickly found him once more. He professed that he could not trust them, and they said that was his decision. At this point, if he accompanied them, it was his own choice and his own moral responsibility to rescue Henri or not. Tristan talked him into coming along, and the genasi reluctantly followed them once more. Also, before the next leg of the journey, Vayne proposed that the party pick a leader, upon whom the ultimate responsibility for decisions would rest. With her background as a pirate captain and leadership role with J’Div, she might have been expected to suggest herself, but she kept silent and passively accepted the party’s decision to place the mantle of leadership on Tristan. For now, at least, the paladin would be the leader of the group.

The heroes continued on through the Lowerdark, emerging from the Shadowdark into a place of glowing crystal. Ysabelle began experiencing terrible headaches, and Vayne offered to connect to her mind to try to protect her. This proved a failure: Vayne was hurt, and Ysabelle was not much improved. Finally, the source of her headaches was revealed: a chamber of crystal infused with psychic energy that enhanced her powers. Ysabelle told everyone they should leave immediately, but too late: mind flayers and umber hulk slaves ambushed them, and battle was joined. The heroes dispatched one mind flayer quickly enough, and the second fled while the hulks attacked. Finally, the heroes won the day, but the other illithid had not reappeared.

They took a moment for Garal Kai to commune with the crystals (as an earthsoul genasi), during which Brandis and Fiona scouted ahead stealthily. The two came upon a mind flayer and a thoon hulk, and ambushed the two before they could get away. These foes proved extremely capable, however, and the tide quickly turned on Brandis and Fiona: more so when the escaped mind flayer reappeared, with mind thralls in hot pursuit. The rest of the heroes caught up to them, only to see the mind flayer reinforcements arrive: a mind-reamed drow warrior and a certain half-starved halfling.

They had found Henri, and now he was going to kill them.


20. Sharpening Blades in the Lowerdark
Of Guides Found, a Rival Discovered, and a Nest of Hook Horrors

After defeating the matron mother and sealing the gate to the Demonweb Pits, the heroes turned to the last piece of business remaining in the drow stronghold: the warlock who had first fought them, then aided them in exchange for not being plunged in a vat of acid. The warlock—one Morthos by name, or at least so he claimed—suggested that his aid would be essential in escaping the fortress unharmed, and the heroes accepted this bargain.

Morthos proved a capable guide, and when the heroes returned to the relative safety of the Middledark, an offer was made: if he would agree to guide them through the perils of the Underdark, they would give him a share of the rewards they gained in their quest. The heroes bickered and argued telepathically about what bargain to offer, and finally Vayne stepped forward as the party spokesperson to make the deal. She revealed to Morthos their goal (the Well of Living Steel) and its general location (the Lowerdark). The drow balked at the concept of descending that far, but Vayne assured him that he could leave whenever he determined that the risk was no longer worth the potential gain. Morthos accepted this bargain, and the heroes continued on with a guide.

The drow warlock led the heroes to the fastest route to the Lowerdark he knew of (though he personally had not ventured down it): a great abyss filled at the bottom with what he called “deep horrors.” Along the way, Fiona traded notes with Morthos about arcane pacts, revealing her Elemental Pact to him as he told her of the Dark Pact to which he was sworn (apparently, his patron is some sort of “Great Cloaker”). She even offered some of her own lifeforce to power his spells—should the need become dire. Morthos was surprised by this and asked for clarification about her offer, to which Fiona cheerily returned, “well this way, if I happen to catch you in one of my fire spells, I won’t feel too badly about it.” Morthos: “Good to know.” Her casual promise of potential harm seemed to intrigue the drow, and he subsequently made more obvious overtures to her (including caresses in the heat of battle or when no one else appeared to be watching).

The heroes came to the great abyss Morthos had promised. Tristan plucked up Ysabelle to fly down, Morthos conjured a moving disk of force to carry himself and Fiona (once she cuddled up to him), while Brandis worked together with Vayne to make the long climb down into the pit. Briefly, Vayne lamented J’Div’s disappearance, as she would ordinarily rely on his strength for situations like this, but with his monk training Brandis proved an excellent climber, skittering down the walls and leaping to outcroppings with ease. There was never any danger, but the trip was grueling. When they got deeper, they began to hear echoing sounds as of metal scraping against stone as though to sharpen itself. It was not long before they found what awaited them: a hive of hook horrors.

Fiona and Morthos blasted away a group of the horrors to clear a path, but the creatures instinctively exuded clouds of inky, blinding darkness to cover their skittering escape. When clouds of darkness began creeping up the walls after Vayne and Brandis, a fight seemed inescapable. Steel was drawn and battle was joined: a blurry, disorienting battle fought primarily in the darkness the creatures exuded. Brandis was quickly surrounded with the creatures, though he could hold his own thanks to his great training. Vayne meant to guard him, but Ysabelle and Tristan landed to join the combat, and the shadar-kai had a new priority: protect Ysabelle from the charging creatures. Fiona and Morthos lingered on his disk of force, striking from safety fifty feet about the cavern floor.

The heroes fought a nearly endless onslaught of the beasts, somewhat hampered by the inability to see. Without their protective darkness, the hook horrors might have posed an insignificant threat, but their natural blindsight made them deadly combatants. To make matters worse, when injured, they roared with deafening, paralyzing force, and so the heroes often couldn’t hear as well as see. Brandis and Tristan were both badly hurt in the combat (the monk partly thanks to one of Fiona’s spells, an erupting volcano of flame that immolated three of the hook horrors) and Vayne was grievously hurt, fighting desperately to defend the others. Ysabelle narrowly avoided being impaled by a hook horror’s claw through use of the staff: with its power, she foresaw her own death and stepped differently, thus averting that awful second in time.

In what seemed an uncharacteristic display of self-sacrifice, Fiona conjured her hellgate between the relative safety of Morthos’s platform and the cavern floor, stepping down and allowing Ysabelle to teleport up to safety (though the warlock was considerably less pleased with her company than that of the alluring tiefling). Fiona revealed her true intentions on the ground, however, when she blasted a hook horror that charged her with repelling flames that killed it outright. Her fire powers were extremely useful in the battle.

At the height of the battle, Vayne began murmuring to herself, saying things like “No, it wasn’t my fault—I didn’t mean it!” When Ysabelle connected to her mind, she found it filled with horrible distress and a fleeting image of a small, pale, dark-haired girl surrounded in a dark corona of flames and staring menacingly at her. A chill of fear ran through Ysabelle at the sight, but before she could interact with the image, Vayne discorporated into her shadow self to carry on the fight, severing the mental connection and leaving Ysabelle with only a lingering chill of empty shadow. She sent an ardent surge into Vayne, giving her the strength to carry on in spite of her wounds, all the while a little bit nervous about the little girl she had seen. Was that Vayne’s image of her? Or something else entirely? In her shadow form, Vayne offered no insights through her mind or expression.

The heroes repelled the first wave of attackers, and looked for a way to get to the exit—across the cavern. The hook horrors appeared to be repelled by the scent of their own dead, so the heroes smeared themselves with the blood and guts of their kills and pressed on, with Fiona holding off the foes with fire at need. The hook horrors’ hesitation proved short-lived, however, particularly when the heroes stumbled across what appeared to be an overgrown hook horror at least twice the size of the others. Their cautious walk became a run, and soon enough every hook horror in the hive was after them. Tristan, who had spent so much of his vitality on the battle and on his own silver fire, would have fallen to a hook horror attack, but Vayne revealed a new swordmage power that allowed her to switch positions with him and parry the attack. They ran.

Outside the hook horror cavern, the heroes relied upon Morthos to guide them to a safe place to rest. The found a suitably defensible, out-of-the-way cave where they could hole up for the night. Tristan, who was wavering on his feet already, passed out on the spot, and it took Vayne and Brandis working together to take his armor off so he could rest effectively. The monk was skeptical of the whole process, but the shadar-kai reassured him that she had done this sort of thing often enough for J’Div, who similarly pushed himself with alarming regularity. Brandis cautiously asked if she wanted to talk about the genasi, but Vayne hardly seemed to be paying attention to him, being wrapped up in a conversation she seemed to be having with herself. He finally managed to rouse her, at which point she declared that she hardly felt like sleeping and would gladly take first watch.

As the heroes bedded down, Brandis and Ysabelle discussed Vayne and whether her recent erratic behavior was a result of the influence of Godsbane. Ysabelle asked Brandis if he wouldn’t mind taking the sword from her for the time being, to which he replied by showing her that he was carrying it in his pack—in an extradimensional space, no less. Vayne, who had been meditating, spoke up: “I know that look, Brandis—and no, it isn’t the sword. I’m just weary. That’s all.” Despite her claims, Ysabelle and Brandis kept a careful watch on her, and while she said no more aloud in waking, she murmured in her sleep, again apologizing to an unseen listener for some great sin.

In the morn, Brandis again discussed being a better person with Fiona, mostly in the context of choosing right and refusing to do wrong, whatever the consequences. Tristan was too exhausted to take part in the discussion, having dreamt of the prison of air the night before and been unable to rouse himself. Surprisingly, Morthos participated in the conversation (perhaps jumping to Fiona’s defense?). The drow was seemingly intrigued by surface world morality, which he thought incompatible with the basic truths of life in the Underdark. In particular, he did not understand why Brandis thought it was so important not to kill an “innocent” for the sake of his goals—“in the Underdark,” Morthos said, “there are no innocents.” The monk stubbornly held to his firm beliefs in right and wrong, and Vayne (who had not slept well) eventually snapped at him: “If you did not learn the error of your beliefs in the downfall of Funikashi, then nothing we can say will change your mind.” Brandis inquired as to what she meant, but Vayne refused to speak of it.

Shortly thereafter, the heroes came upon an earthsoul genasi wandering in the dark. After a moment of tension diffused by Vayne’s suggestion of food and drink for the lost delver, the genasi introduced himself as Garal Kai. It came out that he was the stonewhisperer guide for Henri and his expedition to the Well of Living Steel, and he revealed that the halfling had been taken by mind flayers in the deeps. Several of the heroes were at first relieved that their rival searcher was not beating them to the Well, but Vayne and Brandis immediately said: “We have to save him” at the same time, albeit for different reasons. For Brandis, saving Henri was a question of morality—he did not wish ill to the halfling, but if anything wanted to return him to the surface unharmed and empty-handed. Vayne had more pragmatic reasons: if Henri had been captured, it meant his compass had fallen into the hands of the mind flayers, and they would be a far worse enemy with the Well of Living Steel at their command. The heroes’ next move was clear: find the mind flayer band that had taken Henri, rescue him if possible, and recover the compass. The genasi agreed, being unwilling to leave anyone to such an awful fate.

Before they moved out, Fiona asked Brandis if he wasn’t willing to sacrifice Henri—not an innocent by any means—and the monk replied: “If he is to die, it will be at my hands.”


19. The Dark Portal
Of Mistakes Paid For, a Friend Vanished, and a Dark Elf’s Madness

No sooner had the battle ended than Tristan turned upon Fiona and dealt her a withering blow to the face with his axe’s haft. Before Vayne or J’Div could intervene—Brandis could have stopped it, but saw that the other party members were ambivalent about what to do so he stayed his hand—the paladin followed up the strike with a blow to the knee that shattered Fiona’s bone and tissue. She collapsed into agonized unconsciousness.

Vayne pounced on Tristan, stunning him briefly with her swordmagic, buying the group a moment. She was unsure if he had been attacked by some external entity that was guiding his actions, but Brandis said he understood what Tristan was doing, J’Div nodded silent approval, while Ysabelle refused to say anything. Vayne lodged her protest of condoning Tristan’s actions, but she relented that they would speak to him.

When the paladin came to, he explained that Fiona had undertaken a series of terrible decisions that had placed them in immense danger, including voluntarily using Cyric’s skull and—potentially—summoning his avatar into the Realms. Vayne countered that they didn’t know what had happened, but Tristan argued that he felt it in his bones and wasn’t going to let Fiona run around free until they were sure. Pointing out her shattered leg, J’Div observed that Fiona wasn’t likely to be running around anywhere for a while. Tristan immediately set to healing her at Vayne’s request, and the group repaired her wound as best they could. They continued on, taking Fiona along more as a prisoner than a companion.

The tiefling eventually woke up in a world of agony from her ruined leg, about which Tristan did not show any sympathy, nor did Brandis, J’Div, or even Ysabelle. Vayne made friendly overtures to Fiona, including soothing some obvious pain she was feeling. The tiefling adamantly refused to discuss her situation, stubbornly asserting that she was perfectly fine, despite an instance where her fire powers failed to function. She grew obviously alarmed but said soon after that she was all better and could work her magic with ease. The rest of the party earned her venomous tongue, particularly Ysabelle, whom Fiona accused of being a monster they were tolerating in their midst, while they (hypocritically) keep Fiona captive. Ysabelle was upset by Fiona’s accusation and withdrew from the party for a little bit. Vayne went after her and assured her that she had done the right thing—the only thing she could have done under the circumstances.

As they progressed through the Underdark, things continued as they had been, though at least Ysabelle was drawing no more awful sigils. Tristan kept having the dreams, and lost more and more sleep each night. Vayne took back the red-bladed Godsbane from J’Div and sought to learn more about it. The blade spoke to her, promising great power if she would only appease it by killing. It flattered her, suggesting she was the most worthy one to wield it, though she detected a hint of qualification in that department. She thought of Sunic, and the blade recognized the image: yes, Sunic, its former wielder, was more worthy than Vayne, and the shadar-kai knew that the blade would desert her for Sunic if it ever got the chance. Though it was difficult, she put the blade away, refusing to have anything to do with it.

Eventually, Vayne tried to convince Fiona to test her powers, even going so far as to threaten her with an attack against which she would have to defend herself, but ultimately it did not succeed. Fiona shut down and would not communicate with anyone. It was speculated that she might have violated her pact with her master (infernal? The group was unsure), and thus her powers were not working—or perhaps she was simply hiding them until the right time. Vayne returned to Fiona and apologized for her seeming threat—she promised the tiefling she would never let her come to harm, if she could help it. Fiona accepted this promise stoically.

That night Tristan attempted to draw them all into his dream, with mixed results. Ysabelle and Brandis realized that the man trapped in the prison of air was not Tristan, but rather Linn, Tristan’s father. Ysabelle had a severely negative reaction to the dream and lashed out, harming all of the sleeping companions, who awoke in psychic pain. When they woke, they found J’Div had vanished—the genasi had been on watch, and while his pack remained, he himself was gone as though he had run off to deal with a threat. The heroes immediately broke camp and searched for J’Div, only to find traces of genasi blood in one of the caverns (though not enough to be from a death) and a lingering melancholy that Vayne recognized as the influence of the Shadowfell.

It looked as though Sunic had taken J’Div—perhaps killed him.

In the days after, the grim reality set in. Not only were they days behind Henri and his guided party, but Fiona had seemingly betrayed them, they’d summoned an avatar of Cyric, J’Div was gone, and now Sunic seemingly knew where they were. Possibly, J’Div had sacrificed himself to stave off Sunic’s attack, and possibly he wasn’t dead, but there were meager rays of hope indeed.

Distraught, Vayne returned to meditating upon Godsbane. Brandis and Ysabelle watched her suspiciously, recognizing her psychological distress and fearing the sword was influencing her. One night, as she sat meditating, Vayne said (in dark tones): “Brandis.” The monk came over, a little hesitantly. “Do you want me to kill Fiona?” Vayne asked. Brandis was shocked, and Vayne continued: “The sword . . . it needs to feed. Just let me do this . . . The urge. It’s just . . . so . . . much . . . ugh!” Then she writhed on the ground, feigning demonic possession, and ultimately collapsed into laughing.

Ysabelle grinned, though Brandis hardly thought this was funny. Ultimately, Vayne smiled at him, reassured him she was just fine, and gave him Godsbane to carry for assurance. She claimed to be upset over J’Div’s uncertain fate, but she wasn’t about to do anything rash.

The mood was sufficiently lightened that Fiona felt comfortable coming forward to talk to everyone, and a discussion was had regarding their path forward. A truce was called—a fresh start, particularly to Fiona’s relationship with Tristan, and the group agreed that the only way to achieve their goals was to cooperate. Brandis adamantly insisted on a promise from Fiona to try to be a better person, which the tiefling avoided offering. She made it clear that while she acknowledged his concerns, there was no way she could promise not to do whatever was necessary—including the murder of innocents—to save her family. How well this newfound peace among them would stick, none could say.

Shortly thereafter, the heroes ended up in a drow ambush. They handily fought off the first wave of dark elves, whom it turns out had been sent to test their abilities. A drow warlock appeared and sent his pet umber hulk to grab Ysabelle—it appeared he had been after her specifically. Fiona remained in hiding and did not use her fire powers, whether they were available or not. The heroes defeated the drow and Tristan blasted the warlock with silver fire, rendering him incorporeal with no known duration.

The warlock recognized he was overmatched and instead invited the heroes to an audience with his mistress, Matron Mother Baen, at an outpost nearby. In return, he would grant the heroes information related to their quest. The heroes went with him, during which he continually badgered them with questions—particularly regarding Tristan’s worship of what he knew as a dead goddess, Mystra—until Vayne turned incorporeal and slapped him, demanding silence of the “lowly male.” The warlock suggested that with a different skin, she could be a matron mother herself.

They arrived at the outpost’s audience hall, filled with spiders and drow servitors, where they were greeted by the Matron Mother of whom the warlock had spoken. The drow woman promised an exchange of information if they were to perform a service for her: opening a certain set of double doors behind her throne. Apparently, it had been pre-ordained that Ysabelle would arrive and open the doors for the drow. The heroes bargained to learn what was behind the doors and to increase the information they would get, but the Matron Mother was a shrewd negotiator and they could not get her to budge. Ultimately, she wanted to know how Ysabelle would open the door, which the heroes did not want to tell her, as that would entail a battle as the drow sought the gatekeeper staff.

Finally, Ysabelle agreed to do it, provided everyone leave the room. She did so, and the doors ground a little bit ajar, loosing a cold, deadly wind. When the drow returned—very happy that the doors were open—they refused to let the heroes leave, provoking drawn steel. It might have come to a direct confrontation, but abruptly an awful half-drow, half-demon came through the doors to what appeared to be the Demonweb Pits. It started devouring drow guards and the battle was joined.

With her psionic abilities, Ysabelle immediately sent the matron mother to attack the creature, playing the two sides against each other. While Brandis covered the main entrance to the room—a bridge over a pit of acid—the rest of the heroes fought against the draegloth and the drow. The Matron Mother seized Vayne’s mind and sent her to attack Ysabelle, but Vayne fought through it with the power of her maternal feelings for the girl. Meanwhile, the drow warlock appeared and sent his umber hulk after Brandis. The wily monk, however, managed to knock it into the acid, enraging the warlock whose “pet” had just been destroyed. He proceeded to drain the life out of many drow guards as he powered up to fight Brandis. He summoned an infernal hand to hold the monk up in the air, kicking and flailing. Fiona’s powers seemed to have returned, and she spent the time blasting drow and spiders in the temple.

The draegloth finally tore the Matron Mother in half, then turned upon the heroes as fresh prey. Tristan struck it with silver fire, and he and Vayne managed to lock the creature in place for a time, the paladin hitting it with his axe and the swordmage deflecting its attacks with her spells. Slowly but surely, as Brandis struggled with the warlock, Vayne and Tristan managed to fight the draegloth back into the portal and close one of the doors. The creature had another trick yet to play, however: it seized both Vayne and Ysabelle with webs, and pulled them into the awful abyssal plane with him. Vayne kept fighting and cried out for Tristan to save Ysabelle and close the doors—on her if needed.

Brandis beat the drow warlock and convinced him—on threat of being dropped in the lava—to surrender. The drow, seeing his Matron Mother dead and his other potential allies fled, agreed. He invoked his powers to summon his infernal hand to hold one door shut while Tristan closed the other.

Ysabelle teleported to freedom, and Tristan began to shut the door . . . just in time for Vayne to shadow jaunt back into the chamber and use her last breath to invoke a spell to hold the doors shut. The ancient warding magic, rekindled by Vayne’s power, snapped back into being, and the Dark Portal was once again shut.


18. City of Ogremach and Cave 333
Of Tainted Dwarves, the Elder Elemental Eye, and an Insane God Freed

At last, the heroes came to the end of the plague cave through a spellplague waterfall, only to find the way forward guarded by a group of mysteriously malformed dwarves. These creatures seemed to have uncut precious stones growing out of their bodies: the older and more seasoned among them having more than others. Brandis and Fiona stole subtly upon the dwarves, keeping out of sight so as not to betray the group’s true power.

The dwarves were tight-lipped, particularly as none of the heroes spoke Dwarven. Vayne and J’Div were able to communicate with them in Primordial, and discovered that they were set to guard this place against incursion by the creatures of the plaguecave. The only way to ensure travelers do not carry a disease or incubating creatures was to hold them in quarantine. “If you survive seven days,” they said, “you may pass.” Indeed, they recently detained a group of delvers led by a suspiciously familiar halfling and guided by a “stoneshaper” (sp?) through—they just left not a day ago. Wanting to get after their rivals, who suddenly seemed so close (and yet so far) the heroes attempted to talk their way through and proved unsuccessful. They would have no choice but to wait, stewing in their drive to get after Henri.

Apparently, the dwarves were not jesting in their suggestion that the heroes would have to “survive” the quarantine. Shortly after they set camp, the heroes were beset by strange dreams and portents. Tristan began having night visions of being imprisoned in an extradimensional space—a prison of air—from which he could not escape and woke only through falling. Ysabelle’s activities grew even more disturbing: she began tracing a curling symbol in the stone with her bare finger. The heroes recognized this symbol and even the dwarves seemed to know it—or at least a version of it: the Chained God Tharizdun in his aspect as the Elemental Eye. The heroes tried various methods to help her—Tristan with healing, Brandis with meditation, Vayne with swordmagic hypnosis—but nothing seemed to work. Indeed, going into a meditative state seemed to make Ysabelle worse.

The heroes tried numerous times to get past the dwarves. First, Vayne, J’Div, and Tristan sparred to distract the dwarves while Brandis and Fiona attempted to sneak past. They made it past the dwarves but to no good end: they succeeded only in killing one of the sentries, purely by accident. His body merged with the stone upon his death. The next day, the heroes begged the dwarves for help with Ysabelle, who was beginning to frighten even them (they had called for reinforcements soon after the heroes arrived).

The dwarves’ leader Thrumm (a particularly mottled dwarf that seemed largely crystal) arrived to take Ysabelle into custody. The rest of the party (including Brandis, who had revealed himself, but not Fiona, who hadn’t) insisted on going along, and they were all of them taken as prisoners to a stone-warped outpost called (in the Common tongue) Mine 333. The tiefling followed subtly, always avoiding notice from the dwarf guards. When the group crossed a long bridge over a chasm of lava, she had to pause, uncertain how to get past, and as she hesitated, the bridge collapsed into the lava. Trapped on the other side, Fiona considered how to get across when the skull of Cyric began whispering to her, promising a way . . .

The heroes were imprisoned in cells sculpted of living stone—Brandis with J’Div, Vayne with Tristan—while Thrumm took Ysabelle to his main audience chamber. He explained that she was not a prisoner but indeed a chosen emissary of his god, the Elemental Eye. This outpost (translated to the Common tongue as Mine 333) was meant to delve into the earth and discover the last of the three-hundred and thirty-three precious gems required to free his bound deity from its captivity, and Thrumm believed that Ysabelle’s coming presaged the recovery of the gem. Ysabelle sought to persuade Thrumm to release her and her friends if they helped, but the dwarf would have none of it. He demanded that Ysabelle help and said that her traveling companions would be immediately executed. With no obvious choice and desperately overpowered, Ysabelle contacted the dark voice inside her and surrendered her body to the entity inside. All went black for her.

Ultimately, Fiona fell prey to the whispers of the skull and opened herself to its dark powers. The winds of Pandemonium swept through the chasm, filling all (except the tiefling) with temporary madness. Even the heroes, on their way to imprisonment, heard this sound, and Brandis and Tristan immediately suspected it was Fiona’s doing. The skull held true to its word, and teleported Fiona across to the opposite ledge. She hurried after the captive heroes, only to find them taken in opposite directions. She followed the main group far enough to see where they were going—to the prison—then stole back to Ysabelle only to see a horrific sight in the audience hall: Ysabelle floating amongst the dwarves, surrounded by an aura of warped and torn flesh that had once been her victims, including Thrumm and several other of the dwarves. Fiona turned to flee, then thought of the skull in her hand. If there was ever an opportunity to rid herself of it, she thought, this was it. She threw the skull at the aura, made to flee then thought better of it again, and watched what transpired. Her eyes widened.

The alarm rose and the heroes broke out of their cells. They fought off the guards, including a captain who chose the prudent path and ran, rather than died in combat against them. Fiona arrived to tell them what had transpired—though she didn’t mention having thrown the skull at Ysabelle, or what happened next.

Falling to the floor as her power drained away, Ysabelle awoke from her Blood Angel state to find the skull of Cyric absorbing her Far Realm-tainted magic. Purple flame erupted around the skull, forming a new body to go along with the head. She crawled away then fled as Cyric himself appeared—a new avatar loose in the Realms—and began crying out for “Ruha!” and “Gatekeeper!”

The heroes regrouped and fled that awful place, as the newly freed Cyric set about destroying everything and everyone in sight. They plunged into Mine 333 and ran blindly, coming ultimately to two potential paths, one of which (a black abyss) was the path Ysabelle felt like following. Perhaps it would lead to the 333rd gem? Even though time was of the essence, Vayne urged them to choose carefully, and she and Tristan flew down the abyss to see if it was safe. They found themselves choking and nearly dying as they descended, so they flew back up and barely made it: that way was blocked by odorless, invisible poison gas. Unable to go that way, they chose the other path.

This led at length to a massive pair of stone doors that Ysabelle opened with the gatekeeper staff. They swung just ajar. Before the rest of the party could pull them open all the way, Fiona (who’d been feeling suspicious stares from Brandis and Tristan) teleported through the crack, only to find herself flanked by two massive guardian golems that lurched to life around her. She blasted them with her intense fire magic, only to burn away the golems’ armor and reveal them as magma creatures—immune to her attacks!

The heroes made it through the doors and defeated the magma golems in a hard-fought battle. Finally, they stood in the darkness, finally able to catch their breath for the first time in hours.

Then treachery befell . . .


17. Walk through the Fire
Of Spellplague Fire, a Fallen Goddess’s Cry, and a Devouring Worm

Still suffering under the various maladies from the wasps and ropers, hounded by the plaguechanged hordes from behind, they had no choice but to press on through the grueling challenges to come.

The tunnel behind the plaguechanged wasp hive led to an unsettling underground forest, into which the heroes delved without hesitation. Pyres of blue flame rose up around them: active pockets of spellplague that burned with energies far darker and more dangerous than fire. Tristan felt his soul drawn to these bonfires, but was able to resist their lure. Just as they though they were safe among the trees, two of the hulking things rose up and attacked, raking at them with gnarled branches like fingers and gaping, fanged maws.

The battle was a quick and brutal one, in which Fiona’s fire-based powers were indispensible. The creatures spread their spellplague infection as a mere touch, and the heroes desperately tried to keep from being injured. The wounded Ysabelle at first hid from the creatures, as Vayne in particular directed her to do, but ultimately she could not let her friends suffer on her account. She struck a pivotal blow that dazed one of the creatures long enough to turn the tide. The heroes defeated the plaguechanged treants.

After the forest, the heroes found a sure sign that they’d taken the wrong course earlier: a field of blue fire greeted them, a seemingly impermeable barrier. Shielding their eyes from the blaze, they could just make out an opening in the field of flame—suggesting a path through. Unable to turn back, the heroes plunged into the spellplague fire, trusting to their luck and talents to find a path through.

As they picked their way through, Tristan felt the silver fire growing within him, drawn to the surrounding spellplague. The power built in him, and he felt a corresponding urge to release it. The power of Mystra’s demise called out to the power of the still living goddess inside him. They had to move faster through the already impossible barrier, and in their haste, they stumbled through tighter and tighter passages between the flames. Finally, the end lay in sight, but Tristan could take the pressure of the magic no more. As the heroes dove for cover, the paladin unleashed his silver fire, which rose from him in a column to tear into the ceiling and turn the stone to butter. Molten globules of stone rained down, but the heroes managed to escape both the flames and the liquid cave-in, diving to safety just as the rock dripped into the flames.

They found a bare cavern between an empty chasm and a moving wall, with seemingly no exit. One second viewing, however, they realized the walls were covered in millions of crawling spiders—a living sea of biting, clawing death. These spiders filled the chasm as well. They spotted a tiny opening across the chasm, leading to a deeper chamber, and made for it. Brandis picked up Ysabelle and danced across the spiders, like walking on water. Vayne took J’Div’s hand and shadow jaunted them across. Finally, Tristan spread his wings and flew across with Fiona.

Through the passage, they found a larger chamber with shallow depressions filled with hulking spiders. Rather than attack, the creatures held back as though waiting for something the heroes could not see. The ground trembled, and an awful stinger burst forth from the dirt to stab Vayne in the small of her back. A purple worm the size of a building broke through the ground below them and swallowed both J’Div and Vayne whole. Instantly, the spiders charged, and the battle was joined.

Tristan, Ysabelle, Brandis, and Fiona held their own against the creatures, but the spiders kept coming. The worm lashed out at them with its envenomed stinger, but they managed to hold the awful beast at bay. Meanwhile, the warlord and the swordmage found themselves in a horrific burning nightmare, locked in battle in separate parts of the worm’s stomach with spiders immune to the creature’s acidic juices. Crushed by the worm’s muscles and harried by the gut spiders, it was all they could do to survive.

Ultimately, Brandis dove into the purple’s worm’s gullet to find J’Div, who had just lost consciousness from the acid and spiders. He revived the genasi and teleported back out and cut through the spiders like a whirlwind. Now that J’Div was awake once more, he used his inspiring cries to spur Vayne in the fight. The shadar-kai teleported to his side and destroyed the gut spiders with her swordmagic while the genasi focused on the purple worm. He drew the rosy-bladed sword Vayne had stolen from Sunic, which stole vitality from the creature and kept J’Div alive. Together, they cut their way out of the worm, which Tristan was busy hewing from the outside. The six finally managed to slay the awful creature, and stood reunited—all of them wavering on the edge of collapse.

What danger loomed ahead?


16. The Plague Cave
Of Horrific Monstrosities, a Duel between Sisters, and Trying to Stay Alive

Insectoid creatures twisted by the Spellplague into horrific monsters descended upon the heroes in wave after wave of ravening hunger. They fought two massive creatures that might once have been carrion crawlers, as well as swarms of giant spiders that went down quickly but seemed to number in the hundreds. Brandis, J’Div, and Vayne-the-White took the lead against the creatures, while Ysabelle and Fiona hung back to strike from a distance and Tristan remained behind to defend them. J’Div and Vayne slew one of the creatures almost single-handedly, prompting Vayne to remark that it was “just like old times”—an ironic sentiment, since she and J’Div never had any old times, much as either of them might remember them.

The true danger of the assault had not yet emerged yet, however: a swarm of spell-warped grub creatures erupted from the ground beneath Ysabelle’s feet, instantly engulfing her in a storm of psionic and necrotic doom. They drew Tristan closer, and his axe proved useless against the creatures. When he breathed with the power of Mystra’s grace, however, his dragon breath dispersed the creatures, and Brandis and Fiona quickly went to Ysabelle’s aid to destroy the swarm. The damage had been done, however, and rot grubs were burrowing through Ysabelle and Tristan, eating them from the inside out. The heroes, worn thin by the battle, healed Tristan handily enough, but Ysabelle was so far gone they barely managed to stave off her death. They could not quite cure her of the infestation. Vayne the White demonstrated a complete lack of any attachment to the girl, unlike her mold, which seemed to care for Ysabelle almost like a daughter.

No monsters came to trouble them, as it seemed the carrion crawlers had carved out this area of the plaguecave for their own. They could rest briefly here, but they had only caught their breath before they saw a shadowy figure following the path they had tread. Tristan pulled out his piece of the Gatekeeper staff and sure enough, the next piece was coming their way. They instantly took up a guard, ready to attack.

The creature that appeared was vaguely woman-shaped but indistinct, as though more shadow than flesh—like a wraith. It carried a gleaming sword in one hand and a staff in the other. That hand burned with a deep black fire. It paused when they confronted it, and the heroes risked talking to it. “Vayne?” Brandis asked.

The wraith seemed disoriented and confused, but at the sound of their voices, it—she—was able to pull herself together with a concentration of will. The shadows coalesced into the original Vayne, who had left them to spy upon Sunic. She bore in one hand Sunic’s rosy sword and in the other, three pieces of the staff put together. The hand that gripped the staff looked stained by blackness, which they realized was emanating from Sunic’s shadow ring on her finger.

Brandis approached, but Vayne cringed back, refusing to give up either the sword or the rod. She was not, she explained, sure that they were who they seemed to be. This could be an illusion, or she could be mad. For a long time, she hadn’t been able to say what was real and what wasn’t. Ultimately, when Brandis put his hand over hers, she released the staff into his grasp and sank against his shoulder for support as though she’d loosed a heavy burden. Satisfied, the group made to welcome Vayne back amongst them.

“Oh, horse-shit!” Vayne-the-White exclaimed from the back of the group, seemingly unable to take it anymore. She strode forward and pointed an accusing finger at Vayne-the-Black. “Isn’t it obvious? Sunic sent her. She’s here to betray us!”

Vayne-the-White went on to question Vayne-the-Black’s convenient appearance, with everything they wanted . . . but still wearing the ring Sunic bound to her. That she had betrayed the party already, not once, but TWICE, and was just doing it again, and they were falling for it like morons. Her harsh tone did not win her any allies, but neither did it speed Vayne’s welcome back into the group. Brandis and J’Div both stood up for her, while Tristan, Fiona, and Ysabelle remained silent. (NOTE: Correct me on this. I don’t recall Tristan taking a particular side here!) Vayne-the-White asserted that what Vayne-the-Black was doing? This is what SHE would do if she wanted to betray the party. “That bitch,” Vayne the White said, “is going to lead you all to your deaths, and I refuse to take part in it.”

At that point, Brandis echoed the unanimous sentiments of the group and said, “Very well. Leave.” Vayne-the-White looked startled for a moment, which turned first into anger, then resolution. “No,” she said. “No, no, no! The stakes are too high—with the sphere, the staff, the sword, the godsdamned skull of Cyric? You’re handing Sunic these talismans on a platter. Too much rests on this for me to walk off and do nothing. So I’ll do this.” She pointed her golden sword at Vayne-the-Black and said: “Challenge.” Silence gripped the clearing a moment, before Vayne-the-Black nodded and said: “Challenge accepted.”

The two squared off for a swordmage duel, despite the protests of the assembled heroes—particularly Brandis. But both Vaynes asserted they had to meet the challenge as a matter of honor. By mutual agreement, they enacted a special ritual to prevent the sort of interference they’d come to expect from the group. Sure enough, Fiona immediately set to dispelling the dueling ward: at first, she could make little progress across their combined magic, and the ward caused her pain in reaction to her attempts. The two women circled, unhindered, and placed their respective aegis wards on one another.

Fiona finally managed to unravel one of the basic spells that made up the ward, causing both Vaynes intense pain. Vayne-the-Black was already weakened from her ordeal, so she faltered, granting Vayne-the-White the chance to send her staggering away with a fist of force. It was all Vayne-the-Black could do to fend her clone off.

During the battle, the various heroes reacted differently. J’Div pulled out the silver sword to try to throw it to Vayne (which one he intended to have it was unclear, as Vayne-the-Black could summon it), while Tristan stopped him from interfering. Ysabelle watched, unsure what to do. Brandis contemplated drawing out the orb of reality and using it to penetrate the dueling circle.

As the two shadar-kai fought, like mirror reflections of one another, Vayne-the-White leveled accusation after insult at her original. She said that the heroes expected her to betray them, when one of their number—Fiona—had indeed betrayed them, and yet they trusted her. At length, she said they thought she was some sort of Far Realm creature, when they had one of those—Ysabelle—in their group and it never seemed to cause a problem. J’Div is fine with sleeping with her (something Vayne should know about!), but he doesn’t trust her enough to give her the sword that she remembers fighting and bleeding for. Brandis sees fit to judge her “loose morals,” when he is the one on a vendetta against his former friends—apparently, sleeping with people is bad, but murder is perfectly fine by him. (Notably, she says nothing of Tristan, positive or negative.) Mostly, come to think of it, she thanks Vayne for giving her an excuse to leave this cadre of madmen and bitches—though she will take pleasure in killing her first.

With the last of her strength, Fiona finally managed to breach the dueling circle long enough for everyone to interact with the two. Part of her magic conjured a gate into which Vayne-the-White charged, rather than striking Vayne-the-Black with a fatal blow. The gate whisked her some distance away, parting the duelists, but with a glance at her allies, Vayne-the-Black followed through the gate and their dueling circle reappeared around them for the final strikes of their duel.

Vayne-the-White knocked Vayne-the-Black’s sword from her hand and stood over her, ready to kill her. She took the opportunity to accuse the original Vayne of being her true originator: that it was her mind, with its doubts and insecurities, that gave birth to her, not Ruthchek—a version of Vayne that wouldn’t have any feeling whatsoever about the shadows before and behind her. And look at the result: a perfect Vayne—Vayne-the-White—who would soon become the only Vayne.

Finally, Ysabelle intervened. Perhaps she saw the Vayne who was her friend about to die, or perhaps it was rage at Vayne-the-White—or perhaps it was both. In any case, she opened herself to the mysterious voice inside her mind, harnessing its power to shatter the dueling circle. The shock disrupted Vayne-the-White’s strike, and the blow that would have killed Vayne-the-Black instead bit into her abruptly raised hand. The ravening force ripped through Vayne-the-White, who recoiled with a cry of pain and horror as it shredded her exposed skin. The worst casualty was her face, which Ysabelle practically tore off. “You little bitch!” she cried. “My face! What have you done to my face?”

Brandis charged into the breach, having taken the Gatekeeper staff to use as a club. He swung it at the reeling Vayne, who managed to parry. The force of the monk’s strike sent her golden sword ringing from her hand. Before Brandis could strike her again, she plucked up the shadow ring—which she had cut from the original Vayne’s finger—and used it to teleport away, presumably to Sunic’s castle.

With Vayne-the-White gone, the heroes took a moment to collect themselves. They’d come out of this with more of the staff (4 pieces instead of 1) and the mysterious red sword Sunic had been carrying. Also, the original Vayne had returned to the group—her first action was to go hug Ysabelle, who was barely able to stand with the rot grub infestation and opening herself to her dark side. Creatures were noticing their presence and beginning to muster, so they pressed on through the plaguecave, seeking an exit.

They came to what looked like two ways out: a forest and a huge nest of swarming, spellscarred wasps. They chose the danger they could see rather than the shadowy threat they couldn’t, and attempted to sneak under the nest to the exit tunnel. Unfortunately, one of the rock formations turned out to be a cave roper, horribly transfigured by the spellplague, which attacked mercilessly. Most of the heroes were caught up in battle with the creature, and when Fiona tried to retreat behind cover, a second roper appeared and attacked. The resultant melee drew the attention of the wasps, which increasingly swarmed the combatants.

Tristan flew over to rescue Fiona, but was immediately caught up in the roper’s tentacles. J’Div charged over to attack the creature, but it crept up onto a ridge of rock, with the dragon-elf and the tiefling captive. Severely weakened, Ysabelle relied upon Vayne for defense while she sent her psionic energy at the creatures, while Brandis fended off the approaching wasps with graceful strikes and movements. Vayne, showing her stark contrast to her red-haired alter-ego, did not hesitate to leap into danger by drawing Fiona out of the creature’s grasp and putting herself there instead. The tiefling thanks her, surprised at her selflessness—having been more accustomed to Vayne-the-White’s sardonic disregard for her allies. Vayne charged up her sword with flame and struck, teleporting the roper down to the ground where J’Div could charge it. Tristan made his way down, and he and the warlord brought the roper death from two sides.

As the wasps kept swarming, the heroes fled through what they hoped was an exit tunnel toward an uncertain fate.


15. Journey into Darkness
Of Ancient Mistakes, Imprisoned Gods, and the Underdark

After Ellerin lay defeated, he began to reform, and the heroes knew they would have to act quickly. A search of the laboratory revealed little that had survived a great catastrophe, and it appeared their inquiry had reached a dead end. It occurred to Ysabelle, however, to use a spell to witness the last momentous events that had come to pass in that chamber, and immediately, her magic whisked her mind away a hundred years in the past. All the heroes could accompany her into the rift in time, and they watched a terrible sight.

Ellerin and a plain-clothed warrior Brandis identified as a monk were setting about to reassemble a broken tablet that contained an epic spell. In casting the spell, however, they were doomed to set off a chain reaction that would leave the laboratory in its current state of disrepair. Immediately, the spell caused chaos in the magic dimension, even if Ellerin and his companion could not feel it. The initial castings took time, however, allowing the heroes to look around.

In particular, not interested in seeing the grand display of arrogance that is the ritual spell, J’Div found just the book they were looking for, on Ellerin’s shelf: his journal of magical devices. Vayne saw where he was looking and went to reclaim the book, but they were as ghosts in the magic and could not affect anything in the physical world. A plan occurred to her, and much as the original Vayne would have done, she asked J’Div for the githyanki silver sword, then was surprised when he didn’t immediately give it to her to use. The two shared a tense moment, in which they argued over the true ownership of the blade, and Vayne interpreted J’Div’s hesitation as distrust, driving a wedge between them (just when they had been forging a relationship of their own). Ultimately, there was no time, as the ritual was drawing on quickly, so J’Div gave her the sword, which she used to cut a hole in reality to spare the book the coming cataclysm. Things wouldn’t be the same between them afterward.

Sure enough, Ellerin completed the spell, and the casting destroyed him and much of his lab. The heroes felt it even in the time-bridging magic, and it almost slew them in its ferocity. Ellerin’s monk companion dodged the initial deadly blasts, only to be subsumed in the magic. The full purpose of the spell was revealed in the casting: to bring back the mythical Gith, who would need a vessel. The time-scrying ended before the heroes saw the result of the spell, though, whisking them back to the ruined laboratory, this time with the book lying on the floor as though it had been there the whole time. They realized that their eyes gleamed with blue fire that allowed them to see magic—Brandis in particular wondered if they had left something of themselves behind as well.

Vayne picked up the book and flipped through it, while the rest of the party watched tensely, giving her a series of untrusting looks. She informed Fiona that she had but to ask for the book, and handed it over to the tiefling when she did. She has a conversation with the party in which she accused them of not trusting her without reason for suspicion—indeed, they have much less reason to trust Fiona the tiefling, who has actively betrayed them on at least one occasion. This predictably did not go well for Vayne, but of all the heroes, Tristan stepped up and asserted that he trusted her and welcomed her as part of the group. Vayne, who had been growing increasingly upset, was struck by this act of kindness, and immediately stopped all her barbs and witticisms against the paladin and has yet to renew them. After Tristan, J’Div expressed his genuine trust of Vayne, but she was either too upset to hear him or didn’t believe him.

The blueprints for the Orb of Reality’s containment apparatus were simple, and the heroes rebuilt the thing when they went back to the City of Brass. Their next stop was Faerun, where they returned to Cormyr and enclosed the Orb of Reality in the case where Tristan’s mother had been keeping it safe.

Meanwhile, Vayne confronted Brandis about his distrust of her, and inquired whether he disliked her because he genuinely thought she was a Far Realm aberration, or because he had feelings for “the real Vayne.” Because, as she asserted, “I’m not her and never will be.” The monk quickly denied such feelings existed, to which Vayne said she had no doubt at least the original Vayne felt that way, as were circumstances different, surely Vayne-the-White would have such feelings (though Brandis had made where things lay between them very clear). The monk asserted that he hoped when Vayne returned, she would not hold unreciprocated feelings for him, to which Vayne-the-White said “I’m sure that would never happen.” The conversation might have gone on longer, but Fiona returned with the Orb of Reality in tow, Tristan’s mother having refused to safeguard it any longer. The heroes took it with them on their next quest: to find the well of living steel.

To this end, they set out in the Chromium and flew to the great rift in the south, where the fortress Observer had once floated. With a bit of luck and the Gatekeeper staff, they found the ruined fortress, where Ysabelle experienced visions and memories suggesting that she was not simply the daughter of Ruha the witch, but IS Ruha in some way. Also, they found a set of symbols similar to those they had discovered in the Shrapnels—one symbol for each of the heroes, encircling a central symbol of Ruha herself—but one was added: a lich’s phylactery, possibly representing Fiona’s involvement. The discussion also led Vayne to the realization that Ysabelle was not the mere girl that she seemed, but mysteriously kept young as though by magic. The rest of the party was unnerved that she did not seem to have previously known this, and wondered about the gaps in her memory.

In the fortress, they found a glowing human skull that shed a purple nimbus of magic. The power of the object was immense, and they realized very quickly that it was a lens through which Cyric, god of deception and strife, was watching them. Tristan favored the evil deity with a rude gesture, while Fiona actively put the skull in a burlap sack. Vayne remarked that she was sure a god would have trouble seeing through cloth, but the tiefling ignored her. They left the skull there, wrapped in the sack, and explored the rest of the castle. They determined there might be treasure in the vault, but they couldn’t open it, at least with the resources they had currently. The heroes left Observer and delved into the Underdark of the rift to begin the search for the well of living steel.

The heroes had not seen the last of Cyric’s skull, however. The cursed object reappeared in Fiona’s bag, and kept reappearing despite her attempts to remove it. Worse, it promised great power if only someone would wield it to cast magic. Brandis was extremely upset by this development and went so far as to suggest that Fiona leave the group. Fiona and Tristan argued as to which of them had drawn the deity’s foul attention. J’Div stood up for Fiona’s value to the group, and did not doubt her when Brandis asked if she should continue with the party. The others watched the arguments from afar, Vayne in particular with great interest. Ultimately, the group remained together, certain they could do nothing about the skull immediately.

The trek through the Underdark was no less frustrating. With no map or guide, they spent days wandering through the tunnels until finally they came upon two mad-looking svirfneblin (deep gnomes) who warned them against progressing farther. An active pocket of spellplague dominated the next cavern, they said, which they were actually there to study. The lifecycle of the creatures there was so fast they were witnessing evolution day-by-day. Also, the gnomes confessed several of their fellows had been killed during the study, and they made a habit of eating spellscarred meat.

The heroes might have turned back at that point, but the gnomes also said that a group had come through recently—perhaps a week ago—led by a prodigiously fat halfling that matched the description of Henri, Brandis’s old friend and the heroes’ current employer. It was revealed that Henri carried a compass similar to the ones the heroes carried, pointing them toward the Well of Living Steel. Ultimately, Fiona confessed that she was the source of Henri’s compass. More discussion abounded, and while Brandis and Fiona were distracted with the gnomes, Vayne sneaked away with J’Div for a liaison of their own. This, she demonstrated, was necessary to keep the perpetually lustful Vayne 2.0 from jumping one of the gnomes. And as upset as Vayne was at J’Div at the time, he was still a far better choice than either of those unsettling creatures. The others came to find them, but Vayne had already gone by the time they found J’Div back in the tunnel, looking quite satisfied.

The decision was made to venture through the spellplague pocket despite the dangers. The heroes simply didn’t have the time, if Henri and his party had already come this far. They delved into the bizarre subterranean forest and managed to get only part of the way through before the native wildlife caught their scent and rushed to the attack.


14. Red-Haired Stranger
Of Friends New and Old, a Wrathful Elf, and a New Quest

After Vayne left the party to keep tabs directly on Sunic, the other Worldwalkers compared notes as to what to do.

After discussion, it was decided they would continue along their current path and look for an opportunity to lure Sunic into a trap. J’Div stepped in to act as the party’s ostensible leader, though decisions are still made with heavy input from each member of the group. The group collected several magic rituals, such as magic circle (to keep out fey and/or shadow creatures) as well as planar sending, to communicate with their plant inside Sunic’s castle. They made inquiries as to where to get to Ellerin’s laboratory in the Elemental Chaos, as well as tracking down Henri, one of Brandis’s old associates.

Meanwhile, Sunic returned from surveillance, extremely frustrated by the party’s attempts to provoke him into an attack. He confided in Vayne, who reassured him. She made a show of discovering that he had switched pieces of the rod and hence could no longer track Tristan’s piece (which she had known all along)—in the process, she touched Sunic’s piece of the rod and determined the next piece lay in the Abyss. She proposed an alternative plan: that they two go and find the rest of the rod on their own. Finally, she convinced him to promise her that if and when he went after the heroes, that he would take her along—of the two of them, she was more deserving of vengeance after what they had done to her.

The next day, Ysabelle dispatched a sending to Vayne, asking her how she meant to join back up with them, and she replied with the assertion that she would not be coming back and was instead staying with Sunic in order to distract him and cover their own efforts. Vayne promptly revealed this contact (though not the content) in order to win Sunic’s trust; she convinced him that they were hoping to turn her against Sunic, but that Vayne had chosen his side, rather than theirs. Sunic, infuriated, insisted they go attack the heroes on the instant, but she convinced him to wait—that perhaps she could work out a way to get back in their good graces and work against them for Sunic’s benefit.

Later that day, the heroes went to the Nook, a tavern in Sigil where Henri was supposed to frequent. Brandis’ goal was to get Henri to tell him where he might find the Dragon Tear sword, as well as the next member of the old gang. While they were searching for Henri at the tavern, a woman who looked much like Vayne (albeit dressed in white, with red hair and different tattoos, and wielding a gold greatsword) walked through the door. With an odd mixture of sweet talk and intimidation, this Vayne attempted to get information regarding a “creepy little girl” who had tampered with her memory. Her arrival and inquisition smoked out Henri, who was quickly confronted by Brandis. Despite Fiona’s attempts to diffuse the tension (as well as Vayne’s intercession with the mercykillers), the interview did not go well, and Brandis and J’Div ended up kicked out of Henri’s tavern (as he had Mercykiller thugs and the patrons of that place owed him their loyalty). Vayne ended up talking with Ysabelle, and confiding in her that her life seemed broken and she didn’t even know why. Ysabelle drank and started to hallucinate, which unnerved Vayne, who teleported them both out of the bar. Fiona slipped Henri a note before leaving—they would meet up again later.

Out in the street, the red-haired Vayne confronted the rest of the party, demanding they either fix her mind, or fight her. She vowed to wound as many of them as badly as she could before she killed them. Exposing frayed nerves, she collapsed in tears when Brandis called her a soulless automaton. The rest of the party conferred, and Ysabelle issued the command words that awoke Vayne to her former memories. This made an obvious improvement, making her more like her old self, but she still seemed a little off: she evinced none of the extreme protectiveness the old Vayne had for Ysabelle, nor did she demonstrate any capacity for leadership. She gladly let Brandis (whom she assumed was the leader) take charge, until he said that J’Div was really the leader. Vayne also seemed to find the rest of the heroes extremely attractive—in particular J’Div, Tristan, and Fiona—prompting some discomfiture on the part of her companions.

Back at their home base, the heroes reworked their plan in light of the new addition to the group. Brandis and Tristan discussed their next move, Ysabelle practiced her rituals, while Vayne and J’Div sparred. The bare-hand combat turned tense (involving a kiss between the two), though J’Div ultimately refused Vayne’s obvious advances and the shadar-kai left to bathe herself in the wake of the fight (J’Div turned down the implied invitation as well). On her way back, she encountered Fiona giving a pair of dimensional shackles to Tristan, which prompted Vayne to joke: “Sorry for interrupting—I’ll just be on my way.” The party decided to continue the quest for the Orb of Reality’s case, which would lead them into the Elemental Chaos.

They made camp inside their warding circle in the dojo, which was drawn around Vayne (as a shadow creature she couldn’t enter or leave it once the circle was drawn). Vayne spent some time in conversation with Fiona, who loudly voiced her disapproval of the former’s “whoring.” Vayne pointed out that it was nothing of the sort if both parties had feelings for the other, and that Fiona should really lighten up a little. At the same time, Vayne expressed an interest in learning more about her “tighter morality,” and the two managed to get on watch together. Fiona took the opportunity to leave the protective circle and abscond to parts unknown, and instead of alert the rest of the party, Vayne took the opportunity to awaken J’Div and seduce him more brazenly. This time, she was successful.

The rest of the party woke up and asked Vayne about Fiona: the swordmage said, truthfully, that Fiona was very stealthy and she couldn’t say exactly where she had gone. Brandis accused her of distracting herself by having sex with J’Div (which they all heard), but Vayne just shrugged it off and J’Div didn’t seem put out either. Vayne stated, very clearly, that she couldn’t have stopped Fiona if she’d wanted to, as she couldn’t cross the protective circle. Brandis was very upset about the situation, though he didn’t make it clear if he was angrier at Vayne or Fiona. The tiefling returned, saying she had made a deal with Henri for the location of Evelene (another of Brandis’s former partners), provided they do him a favor: involving the theft of a diamond in her possession. Though displeased by the arrangement, Brandis accepted the task, as no other option seemed to present itself.

Sunic returned to do surveillance on the camp. He left the rod in his castle in the Shadowfell (so the heroes couldn’t track him) but took along Vayne, who insisted he could hide her inside his shadow cloak (and she would make it worth his while). They arrived outside the warding circle, and Vayne made some noises to cover tipping off Ysabelle telepathically. This was the first time Sunic had seen the duplicate Vayne, and he was rather unnerved by it—the original Vayne said it was the product of some magic she didn’t fully understand, and she blamed Ruthchek, which Sunic seemed to accept.

The heroes confronted Sunic, who revealed himself as well as the original Vayne. Sunic called Tristan a coward for not attacking him, and heavily implied that he held the soul of Linn (Tristan’s father) prisoner. The pissing contest did not blow Vayne’s cover, and she acted in all particulars as though she were on Sunic’s side, all the while telling Ysabelle telepathically that this situation did not favor them and they should not attack. Finally, too upset by Tristan to think clearly, Sunic left the dojo with Vayne in tow—she tried to reassure him, using the opportunity to convince him of the need to attack them all at once. She couldn’t get much accomplished, however, before the party emerged from the dojo, as well as Matsumura. The duplicate Vayne did not come along, as she was trapped inside the bounds of the protective circle. Feeling overwhelmed, Sunic said that he would attend Tristan again soon—after Matsumura was dead. He and Vayne teleported away.

Unnerved, the party left Sigil the next day for the Elemental Chaos. They bought an elemental glider and followed the compass to Ellerin’s laboratory, which seemed to have been much damaged by the ambient chaos. Much of the lab’s contents had been destroyed over however long it had gone without proper wardings. They found their way inside, only to encounter the former wizard turned into a blob of elemental energy. Tristan pleaded with Ellerin to stand down, but the creature must have been driven totally mad by the magic that warped him, and he attacked the party with silver fire. The battle was harrowing and quick, but they ultimately defeated Ellerin.



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