Scaled Down Scales

Delis Fights her Way
...Through the Giants...

…To Link Up…

…with Team Admiral.

Delis

Krasire made his way back to the Swiftriders. Megan needed to be told they had tried to find a way to get the team going after Admiral Kada’ne. But some giants were between them and the team.

It took the Eldritch Giant longer than Nox Rhasgar expected to bring down the force gates. But he was definitely better at it than the Fire Giants.

Now they were fighting both — Fire Giants and the Eldritch Giant.

Aurora didn’t really want to fight the Giants. When they broke through the force gates, however, she didn’t see an alternative. “I don’t think we can assault the barricades with Giants at our heels.”

Trinity Shadowfox

View
The Stealth Wave
...Goes in Behind Team Admiral...

…With Delis Erinthal and Krasire…

…trying to maintain contact and Megan Swiftblade’s Freeriders trying to make sure they can all get out. And Relvain the Dragonpinner waiting for the third wave … the main assault.

Krasire was somewhat satified that Aurora had incorporated some of his ideas into the plan they eventually settled on.

Team Admiral were going in first. Megan Swiftblade and her Freeriders were going in on the second wave — which was dubbed the “Stealth Wave.” He and Delis Erinthal would go with Megan and try to help her maintain contact with Aurora’s Team Admiral. The third wave was being called the “Main Assault” — led by The Dragonpinner herself — but everybody knew it was really a feint to draw attention from Team Admiral.

He and Delis were taking a lot of explosives in with them — all they could fit in his Bag of Holding.

When they got to the scaffolding Team Admiral planned to use as their entry point, they found evidence of a fight there. Dead Githyanki all over.

“Looks like their cover was not maintained.”

Privately, Krasire hoped they had just run into a routine patrol.

They placed barrels of explosives a key points on the scaffolds ready to blow if they needed to cover a hasty retreat. That was looking more likely if Team Admiral’s cover was blown.

They climbed the rickety structure and went through the hole in the wall. They found a small storage room. Then a hallway.

At the close end of the hall was a room with two Eldritch Giants bringing in supplies: wood and ingots mostly. At the other end of the hall, they found a forge — sized for giants.

He heard shouting behind him. Before he had a chance to hide, Delis was behind a forge furnace and the Eldritch Giants had spotted him.

The Dragonpinner sat sharpening her axe. The first two waves were just not her style. “I’m not built for stealth,” she said as she prepared for the main attack on the shipyard.

Delis Erinthal had to change her tactics once Krasire disappeared … seemingly shattered into a cloud of crystals.

The Eldritch Giants had spotted Krasire right away. Delis hid as soon as she heard the Giants shouting at each other. She wasn’t surprised they had heard Krasire. He wasn’t very stealthy.

“Stealthy for a rock, I guess.” But not as stealthy as an The Huntress of Winter’s Eye.

She had stayed out of sight while Krasire was attacked by the two Giants. Then he was shattered into a thousand crystals. One of the Giants left.

She decided she should work her way back to Megan without letting the Giants spot her. But the remaining eldritch creature was able to spot her before she got out and she had to start fighting it.

The room, with its giant forges and enormous anvils, proved the perfect battleground for her run-and-shoot tactics, allowing her to hide most of the time. The Giant had no such advantage and Delis found herself humming the tune to “Giants Don’t Sneak.”

Even before Krasire came back — “How did he do that?” — she was pretty sure she could kill the big creature and continue their mission without him. Once he got back they finished it off fairly quickly.

She scouted ahead and found the other Eidritch Giant had joined some Fire Giants who were trying to get through a magickal force door.

Beyond, she could see Nox trying to jam the door against their efforts.

View
Waves of Minions
...Fail to Prevent...

…Team Admiral…

…from making it to the docks.

Shade opened the door using the Thief’s Tools which Andrea loaned her. They peeked inside and saw two Fire Giants carrying metal balls from a room at the end of the hall toward an opening in the other side of the hall.

Loud crashing noises emanated from another room at their end of the hall.

She was able to sneak over and see what was making the noise: Two Arcane Giants — who looked a lot like the Eldritch Giants they fought back at the Sovereign Gate — were using gates near the ceiling to bring in supplies for the shipyard.

“Ingots of metal…and heavy wooden beams,” she observed. “I would not like to fight in there where they could drop that stuff on my head.”

At the other end of the hall she discovered a foundery. Elemental and Fire Giants were directing their minions at the forges. So she decided to follow the two Giants they had seen earlier.

The room on the other side was stacked with war materials…and it looked to her like some of it had already been shipped out. Beyond that she could see shimmering force gates and a patrol beyond.

“They must have let the Fire Giants through to the docks.”

She went back to report her findings to the others.

Nox Rhasgar decided to use his Arcana to figure out the panel beside to the Force Gates.

Andrea Ravn agreed they should ignore the dangerous rooms between them and the docks and go straight for the Force Gates.

“Our mission is to get to the admiral before he knows he’s being attacked,” she told them. “The sooner we can get through these guys the sooner we get to the admiral. If we can do that before the Fire Giants and Eldritch Giants know we are here, we might not even have to fight them at all.”

Sneaking as best each could, they made their way to the storage room. Hiding behind some wire-frame boxes — well, Shadowfox hid on top — they sent Nox forward to see if he could open the Force Gates.

She was pretty sure the guards on the other side could not see the Sorceror. The forces of the gates made the air all wobbly if you tried to look through them. Nox made himself as hard to see as possible by sticking close to the wall as worked on the panel.

Andrea was positive they would see him once the gates were down.

Sure enough.

When the gates disappeared, the guards formed up and attacked the Sorceror. Andrea knew he would expect them to rush to his aid. But she had another idea.

“Follow me,” she told the others. She led them around to another Force Gate — which had also been opened by Nox. Then, they were able to attack the guards in the rear as they attacked Nox.

The Sorceror did not wait around to be trapped as he had in the last battle.

This time he telelported out of the fray and joined them in their attack from the other side.

By the time Nox got around to back them up, they were already putting the Giant Fomorian Guards and some of their Githyanki friends on the run.

“Minions,” she snorted, even though two of the Githyanki stayed to fight. Alarms were going up all over and soon more waves of minions were coming at them as fast as they could put them on the run.

She knew they had to stop the waves from continuing, so she told Nox to see if he could re-close the Force Gates.

“And see if you can jam the mechanism. We’re gonna need enough time to fight our way to Admiral Kada’ne’s ship.”

Nox Rhasgar decided to use his Athletics to complete the first part of the effort to jam the Force Gates shut and stop the waves of Minions. “Everybody always forgets how strong Sorcerors are,” With brute force, he unlocked the inhibitors that controlled the flow of arcane power to the gates. Once that was done, however, his bulging forearms could do no more. “Unlocked is unlocked,” he told himself. “Maybe I can do the rest with Arcana.”

Nox tapped into the magic within one of the gates, gaining control of its flow.

Aurora saw how Nox was working the magic at one gate, so she went to the other and did the same thing to control its flow. "Once it’s controlled, though, there nothing more to do with our Arcana. We can turn them on, but it’s going to take some Thievery to jam the controls into the on position and prevent the re-inforcements on the other side from just re-opening them and hitting us in the rear.

Earlier she had seen the Assassin pick a lock, so she called him over to the panel.

“See if you can override part of the mechanism controlling the gates, Shadowfox,” she suggested.

Once the Assassin got the Force Gates back up, she saw it was just in time: The next wave of minions were not minions at all, but some of the Fire Giants they had seen earlier.

They finished off the Githyanki and their Fomorian minions and did a quick search of the bodies.

All they found were a couple of cameos…depicting Emperor Zetch’r’r.

“At least they might be worth some money,” she thought, pocketing one.

View
A Tough Fight
...on the Docks of Garaitha...

…as the Infiltration Team Gets Spotted.

Aurora was glad the ritualists had been able to scry the docks at Garaitha’s Anvil. The whole area was under a Forbiddance ritual to prevent scrying. The Wizards from Nefelus told her the power of the Sovereign Gate enabled them to find The Cev’ren in the vast shipyard in spite of these Forbiddance protections.

They showed her a map. Unfortunately, none of the Portals they had so far been able to find were in the immediate location of the admiral’s flagship — The Cev’ren — but a couple were nearby.

Her plan: To sneak in with the assassin’s guild party and try to capture or kill Admiral Kada’ne to get his crystal key; then, they would be followed five minutes later by wave of stealthy adventurers, each trying to penetrate from a different gate; finally, ten minutes after that, the largest wave with dozens of fighters would attack openly in as many locations as possible.

“Hopefully, the later waves will distract them from the main mission,” she told the Hundred Heroes gathered outside the Fane of Chaniir. “Capturing the crystal key.”

They arranged for a special signal when they had found the key to let the Hundred Heroes know they could withdraw.

“Don’t press your fight so hard you will not be able to break off when we find the key,” she warned them.

Across the bluffs and trails surrounding the fane, she saw the mages of the Coalition scribing dozens of planar portals, causing the fading twilight to blaze with eldritch light.

Spread out before them, the greatest heroes of the mortal realm stood in expectation of the battle to come. Most are on foot, a score or more mounted on steeds still skittish from having made the transit through portals from their own lands.

One force of rangers from the desert lands south of Elsir Vale make a last check of the tack on a flight of griffons.

No one spoke.

At Aurora’s signal, Bejam and his mages activate the planar portal in front of her, and a flare of white light cut through the darkness. Within that light, hazy images of the shipyard flare to life — windowless stone buildings, the open spaces between them thronging with Githyanki and giants.

Shadowfox introduced her to the crowd and she got them worked up before Nox made his speech.

Around her, the Hundred were ready, waiting to move at their word.

Nox made his speech: short but powerful:

“Using the advantage of our surprise, we will hit them — one hundred as a thousand.”
— the final words of Nox Rhasgar’s
speech to the Hundred Heroes

“Hundred as a thousand! Hundred as a thousand!”

Shade was impressed by the way the crowd reacted to Nox’s words. Picking up on them immediately, they began chanting the words louder and louder as Team Admiral stepped through the gate in front of them.

A Githyanki patrol spotted Nox almost as soon as they began to work their way toward their goal: a storeroom they hoped would lead them to the admiral’s ship.

“I guess we’ll have to fight our way in,” she told the others.

The fight did not go well for them. Nox got surrounded — not the sort of position the Sorceror was used to fighting from. Shade herself went down and had to play possum while Aurora healed them.

But she was not a true healer.

“Just a Druid with some good healing spells,” she told himself. The Druid was also summoning animals — firebirds and wolves mostly — to help with the fight.

Then she suddenly realized their mission was not to kill this Githyanki patrol, but to get past them.

In a flash she Ghost-on-the-Rooftopped up the construction equipment and made it through the hole in the wall to the door to the storage room.

“Alas, it is locked.”

She tried to pick the lock, but could not open it.

Looking back down at the rest of the kidnap-the-admiral team, she saw they were in desperate straights.

Nox went down — it was the first time Shade had ever seen him taken out of a fight. Aurora stabilized him, but Shade had to Ghost-on-the-Rooftops back down to pull a potion from the Sorceror’s belt and revive him.

That gave them just enough to finish off the patrol.

“I guess killing them works, too,” she said. “And this way they cannot get help.”

They searched the bodies, but found nothing beyond the usual silver weapons carried by all Githyanki. They knew they had to move on if they were going to be able to use the next wave as a distraction.

View
A Time for Diplomacy
...Is a Time for...

Krasire…

…As the Alliance Reaches a Crucial Turning Point.

Andrea Ravn woke.

Refreshed.

As refreshed as she had felt in days.

“Oh, yeah,” she remembered. “The dream.”

In her dream she had finally reached Queen Ileosa and returned her stolen broach. The queen had offered her a job, a job in the Queens Guard. Somehow Andrea knew Nox had gotten a job there, too. Even though he was not in the dream this time.

“Had to kill the darn imps by myself.” She knew she was lying to herself. The House Drakes in the dream city of Korvosa had helped her finish them off. “But the queen didn’t seem so bad. Maybe the rumors aren’t true. The king’s line has always been cursed.”

She found a line at the World Gate. The mages of Nefelus were apparently putting Whitefire Marks on as many of the heroes who were gathering as possible. The cat-girl Druid in front of him was not impressed by the Hundred Heroes.

“Look like wandering mercenaries to me,” she said surveying the crowd.

When they got through the World Gate to the Sovereign Gate, Andrea saw it was well-guarded. She recognized one of the guards — a Freerider named Ragnum Dourstone. Ragnum told them the Githyanki were still trying to use the portals.

“They’re coming through the white portal steady — scouts and strike teams looking to rest up. No sign yet that they know we’re here."

Andrea wondered aloud how long it would take for Admiral Kada’ne to catch on.

“We questioned one moving alone, said he was from Utargarth, Utargarath, something like that. Someone named Kada’ne sent him to the fane to see what’s up with the team supposed to be holding it. It’s a safe bet there’ll be more like him coming through soon enough.”

Andrea had good idea what Utargarath was: “Utargaraith is the name of the interplanar shipyards,” she told the Druid, “where the Githyanki build and repair their fleets of astral craft and airships — Garaitha’s Anvil, as it is most commonly translated.”

They found Krasire and took him down the long stairs. Beyond the astral vortex, the exhausted Bejam stood with Haryssus, the works of the eldritch giant’s library spread across the tables.

“We have gained a valuable ally in our fight against the Githyanki,” Bejam said, nodding to the giant. “I have learned much of the operation of this place, but I fear that it spells our doom all the same.”

Haryssus told them the only way to control the Sovereign Gate was to use one the four crystal keys to the plinth at the top of the ivory stairs.

  • Queen Vlaakith held one, but her key was said to be lost when
    she was destroyed.
  • Zetch’r’r holds one, taken from one of Vlaakith’s captains slain when the new emperor came to power.
  • Kada’ne, admiral of the Githyanki fleet, holds one.
  • Do’kan, general and master of the Githyanki ground forces, holds the third.

Remembering what Ragnum Dourstone had said about the admiral, she suggested that was the key they should after.

Bejam told them he had sent word to the Coalition leadership, requesting that they come to the fane for a war council that can decide the Coalition’s course of action.

When they got back to the Chaniri’s cave, however, not all members of the Coalition leadership had made the journey. In particular, Eoffram Troyas remained behind in Brindol to help deal with a Hobgoblin uprising.

“I hope it’s the real thing this time,” Andrea thought. The last time the representative of Brindol had been concerned about Hobgoblins, it was a ruse intended to win votes for the leadership of the Council.

Amyria is here, as are other Coalition members. Andrea recognized Fariex, even though he was in human form.

The cautious Quelenna Entromiel was there as well, potentially undercutting any hope Andrea had of inspiring the Coalition into a quick response to the Githyanki threat.

The war council took place in an abandoned library in the fane. Megan Swiftblade and a dozen other heroes of the Coalition are on guard, but the bulk of those who have come to defend the fane are outside, getting their Whitefire Marks, in line at the World Gate, or in the Well of Worlds, keeping watch against a Githyanki attack.

Bejam tried to convince the Coalition leaders of the danger posed by the extension of the Sovereign Gate’s powers to the World Gates. Andrea told them their walls would be no use against an enemy who could teleport vast armies past their gates.

But Quelenna Entromiel took the lead arguing for caution.

“We are far from our homes and families — the places and people we are bound to defend. This place, these planar sites you speak of are meaningless targets. A majority of our many lands’ heroes are here now to defend these places, and for what?

“This is a fight we cannot win, and as such, it is a fight we cannot consider. Waiting here for eventual attack or, worse, seeking out the Githyanki stretches our already over-extended resources past the breaking point. Instead, we must ask what we might do to hinder the Githyanki. Slow down their plots to give us time to plan a proper defense of
our homelands.”
— Quelenna’s speech to the Council
at the Fane of Chaniir

Krasire knew it was time for some serious diplomacy.

He called on all his years of experience as one of the secret leaders of Waterdeep. The Lords of Waterdeep did not rule openly. They did not make public speeches like this one.

That did not mean they didn’t have to be persuasive. They had to convince people individually.

“That gives me a lot of experience in convincing other leaders,” he thought. Leaders like the members of the Council.

He could tell his speech had not swayed Quellena. But he was surprised when the vote went against them.

“Not that she could have been convinced.” he thought. “Her mind was made up long ago. I though I could convince the others.”

But Megan Swiftblade was a different story. She seemed moved almost to tears by his words.

“The Coalition’s so-called leaders don’t know what they’re saying,” she snorted. "Bankers and merchant lords, the lot of them. If you say we need to strike this Garaitha’s Anvil, the Freeriders are with you. But there’s nearly a hundred of us — the Freeriders and the other adventurers who have answered your call — here all told, come together to show our strength. With you leading, I promise the rest will follow.”
— Megan Swiftblade’s reply
to Quelenna after the vote

Cain Shadowfox was frustrated. They had a rough map of the docks at Garaitha’s Anvil. But everyone seemed intent on promoting their own plans for how to attack it. They needed to strike hard and fast. But the admiral was known for his caution. Some even called it cowardice. As soon as he knew they were coming for him, they were sure he would flee.

Bejam told him, “The Garaitha docks are set with two score permanent portals.”

He knew it could not be that easy. “Those sigil sequences are one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Githyanki empire,” he pointed out.

Bejam admitted Cain was right. “However, the unique nature of the Sovereign Gate allowed our Astral Giant ally to extract the sigil sequences of the Garaitha portals.”

“Good,” he told the wizard. “We can teleport right to the admiral’s flagship.”

“We don’t know for sure where the flagship is located,” Bejam told him. “Maybe we can scrye the location.”

“Once again they must have powerful protections against scrying,” Andrea pointed out.

“Yes,” the wizard admitted. “But the power of the Sovereign Gate might be used to overcome those protections.”

As leaders of the Hundred Heroes, Cain thought they could come up with a plan but everybody seemed to be pushing their own ideas, rather than working together.

He thought they should send in the sneakiest of the heroes — maybe even the Freeriders themselves — to infiltrate the shipyards. A distraction was suggested. Andrea had her own ideas about the attack.

“What do you think?”
Amyria to Aurora
when planning reached an impasse

“Well,” Aurora said, “I think we should lead the attempt to capture the admiral. If we go in first, we will be less likely to spook him into fleeing.”

“What of the others?”

“They can attack once we have had a chance to infiltrate and grab Admiral Kada’ne,” she explained. “They must attack with full force, even if we do not believe they will take the shipyards and hold them.”

Amyria seemed impressed with her ideas. “Everybody will need to be ready to retreat with the admiral once you capture. The Hundred Heroes will have to avoid committing to an all-out attack if they are going to be ready to escape when the time comes.”

She suggested they have a signal to let everyone know they had captured Admiral Kada’ne.

Then Amyria turned to Nox and asked him what he thought of the plan.

“Sounds like a good one,” the Sorceror told them. “If we can get in fast enough, we may be able to catch them before he turns tail and runs.”

They headed through the World Gate to tell the Nefelese ritualists what they needed from their scrying rituals.

View
Shadowfox Returns
...and Learns Much...

…About her Powers

Nox Rhasgar remembered the giant had warned them to go back. Not so much a threat, he thought, as a warning.

Andrea was easily convinced. And, when the Warlord told Relvain she could see magickal shackles on the hands and feet of the Astral Giant, the Dragonpinner decided to go along and concentrate on the Githyanki Shade which had appeared before them. This one looked stronger than the ones they fought back in the fane and was armed with two bastard swords.

But the real problem was the slippery, wet surface of the ivory bridge. Nox was able to climb back up the stairs to where it was dry. He could still hit the ghost from there. No matter where it went.

But the others found it harder. Relvain slipped and fell into the seething vortex of magic. She had a hard time even climbing out.

Andrea had an easier time getting out, but she slipped back in repeatedly.

The Dreamer found herself once again in a swamp looking for a Giant Centipede. She knew she had to kill it to create the Undead Centipede which would one day be known as Nightshade. Even though she was good at stealth, it didn’t seem like there was much to sneak up on in this swamp. She decided to try tracking the creatures. She wasn’t much good at tracking, but it proved easy. “Giant Centipedes leave very distinctive footprints.” When she found one, however, it bit her…

…and she woke as Grim Shadowfox.

“Back in the secret room at the Fane of Chaniir,” she told herself. But this time she was not wrapped in chains. “Lots of noise outside.”

So she sneaked out and found the fane was bustling with activity. The Alliance was moving in. A Wizard from Nefelus named Bejam filled her in. The fane was cleared — even the Chaniiri they had rescued were gone.

Bejam introduced her to a group of Wizards experimenting on the bodies of the Painbringers they had killed. They were able to transfer some of the magic in the Whitefire Marks — strange tatoos that glowed with white radiant light — to her forearm. They told him the tatoos would enable her to go through a powerful gate to join the strike force that was reconning some place of power they Githyanki were using.

When the ritualists in the next room sent her through, she found lots of dead Githyanki.

“I see Nox and the others have been through here. Lots of scorch marks on these corpses.”

She found a pool of magickal water and a room with two dead giants, then a room with nothing but four mirrors and a stairway leading down.

“Ivory stairs, all carved from a single piece of ivory.” Grim was not sure she wanted to meet the creature whose horn produced such a stairway. At least 300 feet long, she realized by the time she heard the sounds of fighting below.

When she got to the bottom, the fight was not going well. She and Nox were able to damage the powerful ghost they were fighting. When she used her Executioner’s Noose to slide the creature into the maelstrom of magic, it simply used its telekinetic powers to leap to one of the pillars in the vortex.

There Relvain and Andrea had a hard time getting to it. So Grim leapt out to the pillars herself like a Ghost on the Rooftops. She was able to pursue it from pillar to pillar, eventually forcing it back to the bridge.

The ghost returned to its pillars as soon as it could, leaving Relvain once more out of the fight.

“You’re doing something that none of the rest of us can do,” the frustrated Dwarf told her. “You’re herding it.”

Then Andrea felling unconscious. and Grim knew they were really in trouble.

Relvain the Dragonpinner was frustrated. She could see they were close to losing the fight. And she could not get to the ghostly Githyanki as long as he stayed out on the pillars. Just when Shadowfox had finally learned to herd it off them, Andrea went down. “Looks like our healer is dying.”

Andrea Ravn regained consciousness to find herself looking up at Nox. The Sorceror had just poured a potion down her throat.

“Not the Potion of Regeneration I gave him,” she thought, tasting it on her lips. “It must have been one of the Potions of Vitality we found.”

She knew their only chance was if she could keep herself alive. So she healed herself and tried a Defensive Rally to pep up the rest of the party.

“Can’t afford to lose our only healer,” she told them.

Then Trinity Shadowfox brought out a power she had never seen her use before: Blood Shadows. Hiding from the bloodied Shade, she was able to teleport to its pillar and attack it with her Talenta Sharash.

Andrea watched as the blood from the attack drained to the ground and spread out across the creature’s very shadow. The Assassin was about to spill more blood all around the top of that pillar when she noticed a devious grin appear on Shadowfox’s face.

Shaking the scythe-like weapon — first on the next pillar, then on the one behind, and finally at the bridge itself — Shadowfox created three more Blood Shadows. Now, wherever it went it would find a shadow made of its own blood granting anyone who attacked it combat advantage.

When the ghost fled those pillars, Trinity followed it and forced it back onto the ivory bridge, where they were all able to combine their attacks and kill it.

“Now, if she could just learn to combine those Blood Shadows with the herding tactics she uses when she uses the Talenta Sharash as an Executioner’s Noose,” Andrea thought. “She could be really effective.”

View
Andrea, Nox and Relvain Blow Up
...(or Blow Down) a Barrier...

…and Find a Giant…

…who appears to be imprisoned.

When Andrea identified the Bloodgem Shard, Relvain Dragonpinner decided Nox could use it most.

“He kills the most enemies, he draws the most fire, and his defenses are weaker than ours,” she told Andrea.

But Nox was already working on the wards blocking a stairway he had found in the room he peeked into. She saw he was immediately able to destabilize the wards by exploiting the arcane energies surging around the stairs.

Relvain tried to lift the metal bars blocking their way, but only succeeded in making them harder to stand on. Andrea told her that the Dragonmark she was using to enhance her arcane powers did not seem to be able to help her exploit the energies in the manner Nox had just tried.

“But the Dragonmark does improve my arcane detection capabilities,” Andrea told her. “I can see something is pulsing inside the mirrors.”

Relvain looked around and saw four mirrors on the walls around the circular room. “I’m just a dwarven fighter,” she said. “I don’t see anything.”

She could tell Andrea had further destabilizing the iron bars blocking the stairs, but that did not stop Nox. He was able to balance on the shifting bars well enough that he got out on them and was again able to exploit the energies surging up from the stairs to weaken the wards.

So Relvain decided to try attacking the bars directly with her axe. But her glancing blow only overloaded the wards, destroying the bars and releasing a blast of force which hurt the rest of the group, but left her unharmed.

“It’s only force damage,” she told them. But Nox took further damage when he fell to the stairs below.

It took Roland the Betrayer two days of walking through winding jungle paths to reach the shantytown he had seen from the cliffs. The jungles were full of dangers and he had to fight them, but they were nothing he did not expect. “It’s a jungle, after all,” he told himself.

Andrea Ravn was hardly surprised when four Planestalker Marauders erupted — one after another — from the mirrors after the Stair Gate collapsed.

She was surprised, however, at what happened when they began putting some serious hurt on one of the Planestalkers: First, it partially phased into another plane, making it insubstantial and difficult to damage. Then, it teleported itself and her into that other plane.

She found herself in an extradimensional space 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide. She couldn’t see any of the others and she doubted they could see her.

“I guess I’m on my own,” she said, swinging her new sword — the Sword of Bahamat she planned to give to Garen — and connected solidly. Both of them reappeared back near the Stair Gate.

“When they teleport you,” she told the others, “just hit them as hard as you can.”

They finished off the one which had taken her away, then the next one phased, taking Relvain with it.

“When they phase,” she told Nox, “they are about to teleport you to another dimension.”

Then Relvain reappeared, and they killed the Marauder which had taken her.

The next time she was teleported it took two blows to force it back to their plane of existence. “If you could call this place ‘our plane’ of anything.” she thought.

Admiral Kada’ne was still fretting about the reaction to his decision to send a scout to check out the Fane of Chanir. “I know they think I’m a coward. But those fools should have reported back by now. They think that the Sovereign Gate make them invulnerable.”

Nox Rhasgar was hardly surprised when he found himself whisked away to another dimension.

“Andrea and Relvain both warned me.”

He hit the Planestalker with an Elemental Bolt.

“Not as much magic in this place,” he told himself as the arcane energies left his fingers. “But that should be enough to force it to return me do the Stair Gate.”

Sure enough. As soon as he hit it with the bolt, it took so much damage it could no longer hold them in that strange room. They returned to the exact spots they had been teleported from.

After that, it was no problem to finish it off. But it left no bodies to search. The others gave him the Bloodgem. They had figured out what it was. They told him it would improve his defenses whenever he knocked out or killed an enemy.

“Anything that improves my Reflexes,” he told them as he replaced his Amulet of Truth with the blood-red crystal. Even before he had killed anything while wearing it, he could tell it improved his ability to dodge out of the way of an attack. "I can always put the amulet back on if we need to search for hidden doors.

“Or if you want Insight for diplomatic situations,” Andrea reminded him. Andrea had one of her own and she really liked those Amulets of Truth.

Andrea checked out the other door in the Hall of Shards, but it just turned out to be another way to get to the Stair Gate.

“Just as Andrea had predicted,” he told himself.

They decided to go down the stairs.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we just came back to this room?” the Warlord joked as they started downward. “From above?”

But that seemed unlikely to Nox since there were no stairs coming down from the ceiling. Sure, the dimensions were strange here near the Sovereign Gate, but he did not see how that could happen.

The ivory stair led them downward. Nox estimated they were about 300 feet down when they saw a white light seething in a corrosive whirlpool filling a vast chamber below.

The air was hazy above a stone platform extending from the bottom of the stairs across the seething vortex. Pillars of glowing stone rose above the maelstrom, their surfaces crawling with an ever-shifting flow of arcane runes.

The far side of the chamber was taken up with what appeared to be an oversized arcanist’s study. Tall shelves and wide tables were covered with well-worn tomes and tattered scrolls.

He was sure Andrea was going to love this place. She was always looking for more rituals, even though she couldn’t perform them all.

A violet-skinned eldritch giant glanced up in surprise at their approach, the Whitefire Mark burning at his wrist as he held up a hand in warning.

“I am Haryssus. It has been long years since any but the masters of this place breached the Stair Gate, but those who did so lived no longer than will you. I have no quarrel with
you. Flee while you can.”

Nox could tell the words were more a warning than a threat. Andrea confirmed this a few seconds later by telling him and Relvain she could detect faint traces of magickal shackles around the giant’s ankles and wrists.

“I don’t think this giant is the real threat,” Relvain told them, shaking off her race’s natural hatred of giants.

A sudden flare of yellow-white light heralded the appearance of a ghostly Githyanki. Larger than the shades they fought in the fane, this creature was wielding twin bastard swords, a white light burning in its eyes as it attacked.

“That’s the real threat.”

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Andrea Ravn Uses her Dragonmark
...To Protect Nox...

…From a Hazard Both Friendly and Unfriendly

As she watched Nox attack the Astral Giants in the Shard Room, Andrea noticed the room itself seemed to be a hazard.

The floor and ceiling, composed of huge crystal shards, each had pure planar energy surges within their shards, which focused and honed it like lenses into twin pulsing spheres of white light at the bottom and top of the chamber.

When Nox used an arcane power — in this case his Elemental Bolt with an Elemental Escalation — these Astral Nexuses aided his efforts, but the backlash from that aid could hurt him as well.

Then the Astral Nexus in the ceiling began shooting balls of pure astral essence at the Sorceror.

Using her Dragonmark for focus her Perception on things arcane in nature, she saw that she or Nox could calm the local arcane energies. If successful, the area around them would be outside the hazardous region for a short time.

Andrea could tell that if Nox tried to calm the local energies he would not be able to focus on subduing the Astral Giants.

“So I will just spend as much of my concentration on using my Dragonmark to calm astral energies as it takes,” she told the others. “As long as Nox stays close to me, he should be safe.”

The Dreamer found herself back in the dream: the one where Obanar sent her to investigate the camp of the Hill Giants besieging the City of Argent. Only it was more of a cave than an encampment. “Makes sense,” she thought to herself. “Hill giants would find the nearest cave and set up camp there.” Still it seemed a bit more well-appointed than a makeshift bivouac in an empty cave. “Must’ve been planning this for a long time.” Once again, she found herself in a room with a bunch of giants. She noticed a Fire Elemental dancing in the flames of the hearth. Dashing from the Common Room, she found herself in the quarters of the Hill Giant Shaman. She tried to sneak through, but failed. Captured by the giants, she almost forgot who she was under their torture. Then she woke and remembered: She was Relvain Blackaxe the Dragonpinner

Relvain awoke to find the fane bustling with activity.

Troops were being brought in through the Portal, which Bejam was now calling “The World Gate.” Defenses were being set up: around the Gate … and outside as well, according to a Freerider she recognized. Sections of the fane had been walled off and mages she recognized from Nefelus were poring over the books Andrea had found in the libraries here.

One of them recognized her and waved.

“I did save their city from Chillreaver,” she thought as they went back to their books.

Bejam told her about the World Gate and the dangers it posed. When he told her the rest of The Order of the Black Feather had gone ahead to scout some mysterious location to which the Gate connected, she volunteered to go and help them.

“But first you will have to be given a Whitefire Mark,” the Deva Wizard told her. “Only Githyanki and their most trusted servants can pass through the World Gate. The Whitefire Marks are how they identify those servants.”

She knew enough about Githyanki to know that Bejam really meant “slaves” when he said “servants.” Just being polite.

A group of Wizards working on the bodies of the two Fomorian Painbringers were able to help Bejam transfer a Whitefire Mark to Relvain’s forearm.

“You can cover it with your armor,” he told her. “But it will feed upon your own life force to power its effects.”

Thus empowered, she was able to step through the World Gate — with the help of some of the ritual casters studying it — to find herself in a strange room crackling with arcane energies.

“Which makes sense,” she told herself. “Bejam said they were siphoning vast amounts of power from the Material Plane to this location.”

That was why the Order had been sent to clear the place.

She found Nox and Andrea in a lounge area. They were trying to bottle the magic-infused waters of a pool there. They only got two of their bottles filled before the arcane energies of the pool were depleted.

“We’ll have to wait 24 hours for the pool to be back to full strength,” Andrea told her. "We don’t have time for that. We can expect more Githyanki to come through here before it replenishes itself.

Andrea gave her one of the vials. “Drink this to turn a short rest into a more thorough sleep.” The other vial went to Nox.

They told her about another room — accessible from both sides — where two Astral Giants were meditating on what appeared to be Ritual Books. Relvain could tell Andrea could not wait to study the books herself.

They decided to try Diplomacy on the giants. The giants weren’t having any. They started blasting as soon as she opened her mouth.

When Nox returned fire, the Astral Nexus above them blasted him as well. When he was hit, Relvain found herself caught in the secondary burst which centered on Nox.

She was dazed by the blast. She decided to concentrate on defending herself while she tried to shake that off.

Which took her longer than she expected.

“Why are there no reports from the Sovereign Gate?” Admiral Kada’ne shouted. “Send someone to check on them.”

Nox Rhasgar saw that Relvain was having difficulty shaking off the effects of the white burst of astral energies. So he concentrated on shooting Energy Bolts at the Astral Giants. They separated, each heading towards a different door at each end of the platform bridging the room.

Eventually Relvain emerged from her daze to leap across to that bridge and engage the giants directly. By then Nox had knocked one of them out and was concentrating on the one which remained.

The one which Relvain was now forcing to concentrate on her.

Made taking it down that much easier. “Quick fight,” he thought to himself.

After the fight, they searched the bodies and found a Bloodgem Shard and 480 platinum pieces.

But Nox was already ready for the next fight. Peeking through the doors at one end of the bridge, he found another strange room: a round chamber of pale gray stone.

The air inside flared with swirling currents of white light — four circular mirrors were set along the walls, their surfaces rippling like quicksilver. In the center of the chamber, the stone floor was replaced by an uneven grid of black steel bars.

A stone plinth stands at the center of the barred floor, its sides set with glowing keyholes. Beneath the bars, steep ivory stairs could be seen twisting down into a haze of white light.

Using his Arcane powers, Nox was able to determine the ambient astral energy on the other side of the door was harmless. A stronger pulse of arcane power was surging, however, in the four mirrors.

Something was lurking within their silvered surfaces, waiting to be called forth.

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Nox Pulls a Fast One
...On a Githyanki Strike Force...

…Who Let their Guard Down…

…while taking a little R&R.

When Jasmine told him that most of the Githyanki strike force had piled their weapons on their gear, Nox Rhasgar had an idea.

Andrea was more concerned about the pool Jaz said they were gathering around. Her efforts to bottle the Astral Mist were going badly, but she had 13 vials she wanted to fill.

“Maybe I can bottle the water from the pool,” she told Nox. He could tell she thought it might have magickal properties.

Nox was thinking more in the present. They didn’t have access to the pool yet.

He had a plan: He would sneak in and grab their pile of swords. Then he could teleport back into the Portal Chamber and throw the Silver Swords into the Astral Mist.

Even Andrea liked the idea. She asked Nox if she could sneak into the lounge on her Trihorn Behemoth. That didn’t sound like a good idea. Nox was reminded of an old song that Jerath liked to sing:

“…Hey, Halfling, what’s that sound?
Great big footsteps coming down….”
— Giants Don’t Sneak

The Trihorn Behemoth Andrea was riding had feet that were bigger than any giant had, so he suggested the Dragonborn Warlord wait at the mouth of the Portal Chamber until the Githyanki realized their weapons had disappeared.

Only one of the strike force noticed Nox sneaking in. His shouted warning was too late. He ran to the pile of weapons, grabbed them, and teleported back to the Portal Chamber which was sorta located in the middle of the lounge. There he threw the swords into the Astral Mist.

They didn’t quite go as far as he had hoped. The weapons just floated in the mist where he threw them.

“Oh, well, at least they don’t have them.”

Relvain the Dragonpinner found herself once again in the bowels of a Hill Giant fortress. “I must be dreaming again,” she thought. She remembered that in this dream Obanar had sent her to scout the area the Hill Giants were using as a base of operations to attack Argent, the Silver City.

When Andrea Ravn swallowed the Potion of Regeneration, she felt it sap the last of her emotional and physical reserves.

She hoped it would keep her alive long enough for Nox’s plan to work.

She charged around the curve of the wall on the back of her mount. The Behemoth’s heavy footsteps convinced her that sneaking up on the Strike Force was something best left to Nox and Jax.

“Giants don’t sneak,” she reminded herself. “And neither do Trihorns.”

Keeping the Githyanki from getting their weapons back proved harder than they expected. The Mindlashers didn’t seem to need them and the Warmongers were able to get past her using their Telekinetic Leaps. The Astraan — who was the only Githyanki carrying his weapon on his person — even helped by using his telekinetic powers to give the Warmongers extra leaps.

The Astraan’s weapon — a silver dagger — proved less effective.

“He couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” Andrea observed as he watched the Astraan try to hit the Trihorn. “Or the backside of my mount.”

Eventually the battle focused around the only chokepoint between the Githyanki and their weapons: the doorway to the Portal Chamber.

By inching her way into position to flank the Mindlashers and give her mount a chance to use her horns, she was able to get to a spot where she could heal Nox.

Who was now beset by the Warmongers who had retrieved their weapons. Beset inside the Portal Chamber.

The Portal Chamber where Nox’s magickal fire seemed incapable of missing. The Warmongers died first, then the Mindlashers. The Astraan surprised them when he ran. Instead of heading for one of the other exits from the lounge, it leapt into the Astral Mist and then to the Portal itself.

Andrea knew the Portal was some kind of Sovereign Gate, capable of sucking magickal energies from other realms, even other Planes of Existence.

Yet it had no runes: the runes that were key to understanding every other gate or portal that she had ever seen.

“How can you find it without the runes to concentrate upon?”

She was so desperate to understand the Sovereign Gate that she used all of the arcane powers her Dragonmark gave her to try and perceive how the Portal — or Gate or whatever it was — functioned.

But all she got was a brief vision of the place where the Astraan fled: some kind of shipyard where an Astral Fleet was assembling.

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The Second Time Through
...The World Gate...

…to the Well of the Worlds…

…goes better than the first.

“Damn Imps,” Andrea Ravn swore as she woke up from the dream of Korvosa.

She had been determined to beat them this time. She had convinced Jaz and Nox to think about Korvosa as the Chaniri priests performed the ritual that would allow them to all be in the same dream.

But the result was the same: The mad prophet foretold of doom involving a plague and Nox — who appeared as a vengeful friend in this dream — was once again able to heal himself of the madman’s disease; the imps attacked again, drawing the attention of the Korvosan Guard; once again, the guards found the queen’s broach on her and carted them all off to the castle…

…and once again their sleep was less restful than it should have been.

“So we’ll have to go through the World Gate tired and angry,” she told the others.

They took Krasire’s mount, but not their own. Jaz rode it, while Andrea and Nox would try to make it to the door. Even without opening it — “Who knows what’s on the other side?” — they might be able to wedge themselves into the vestibule and avoid the worst effects of the Astral Mist.

Jaz decided against entering the dream as a drug addict. It was what Andrea wanted her to do, but it sounded just a little too dangerous. As they meditated on the mythical city of Korvosa, she imagined herself as the friend of a drug addict who was strung out on Shiver. Gaedren Lamm, her friend’s drug dealer, would still have to pay for his crimes, but she would be just a little more Streetwise. It turned out that meant that Andrea didn’t even recognize her in the dream. And Gaedren Lamm was already dead. On his body Andrea found a broken broach. They took it to a jeweler who refused to fix it. He recognized it as the queen’s stolen broach and he didn’t want to get caught with stolen property.

Jaz awoke from the dream, feeling less than fully refreshed.

But they still had to go through the World Gate — through something called the Sovereign Gate — to the Well of the Worlds.

“The Alliance needs to know what the emperor plans to do with all this extra magickal energy they are pulling from our world,” Bejam told her. The Wizard from Nefelus was convinced the Githyanki would not be increasing their risk of discovery if they were not expecting to use the Material Plane’s magickal energy for something important.

That meant they had to go back to the Well of the Worlds soon, even though Nox and Andrea had been forced back the last time they tried by some kind of Astral Shade. They expected it to be even stronger this time.

“It hadn’t been attacked in thousands of years the last time,” Andrea told her. “This time it may be expecting us.”

The Dreamer found himself once again escorting Andrea through the streets of Korvosa. The riots were still going on all around them, crazies screaming about dooms coming down on the city. Once again, one of them rushed at the Dreamer while shouting about some plague which was coming to the city in the future. Once again, the disease he carried was very real … very much in the present. Once again, the Dreamer shook him off and was infected himself. Once again, he healed himself. Once again, they made their way through the Academae District. Once again, he and Andrea looked at each other — the drug addict’s friend was not paying attention — and he fired at the imps who were attacking them. Once again, he missed and the imps got the broach. Then the Queen’s Guard showed up. Once again, they clubbed the imps, found the broach, and hauled them off to prison for possession of stolen property. The Dreamer awoke, as Nox Rhasgar … once again, rested … but not well rested.

Nox Rhasgar knew what his job was: Blast his way past the Shade and get his back to the door. The vestibule by the door was the only place he could make a stand without getting swept by the Shade into the Astral Mist which surrounded the Sovereign Gate itself.

Jaz was coming through on Krasire’s mount — a hippogryph which could fly out of the mist. Andrea could fly — a bit — using her vestigial wings.

But Nox would have to rely on the others if he should find himself swimming in the stuff. As much as he like casting in the room filled with arcane energies, he didn’t want to find himself adrift in the Astral Mist again.

Getting the Shade out from between him and the door wasn’t as hard as he expected. He hit it with an Elemental Bolt — this time it didn’t turn substantial — it teleported to another location and hit them with an Astral Shockwave.

But he didn’t get his back all the way to the door, and the thing’s next teleport put it right between him and the door.

Eventually he was able to work his way all the way to the door and pour on the damage. Jaz was getting the hang of her Backstabs and Sneak Attacks.

The Shade got Andrea down several times, but her regenerating armor kept bringing her back to her feet. Nox downed his own Potion of Regeneration just in case it was able to knock them both out.

Then the creature started to work on Jaz as well. If it got them all three out simultaneously, it could finish them off, one by one, even with their regeneration going full blast.

They managed to kill it just as Jaz was bloodied for the first time.

“Not a lot of time to spare,” Nox thought to himself as they sent Jaz out to explore the next room.

Andrea Ravn swore she would never again try the streets of Korvosa in her dreams. But she had to admit she had to sleep sometime. And that meant the possibility of dreaming. “What was it that Jerath always said about that?” she asked. “I remember: ‘Aye, there’s the rub’.”

Jaz remembered the trick she and Maggie used to play on their teachers.

At the Black Dragon Society Enclave, they were each taught to impersonate the same people — sort of stereotypes, Maggie liked say, although their teachers called them “archetypes.” One of these archetypes was named Jasmine. They practiced Jasmine with each other so much their Jasmine voices became indistinguishable from each other.

Eventually their physical Jasmine disguises become so close the pictures their teachers gave them that Maggie — who was much better at disguise than Demyse — was able to duplicate her Jasmine disguise.

Perfectly.

So perfectly their teachers often mistook one for the other. This enabled one of them to sneak away for various forms of mischief while the other pretended to be the other … as Jasmine.

She thought about this as she slipped through the door of the domed room where the Sovereign Gate was located.

“Just a curving hall,” she thought as she worked her way around to the right. Then she found a kind of lounge, filled with couches.

Beyond the couches, the dome opened into a window. Out of the window, Jaz could see the Astral Sea. Floating there were other globes. She was able to imagine that the dome she was in looked much like those, if she could view this one from the other globes.

Lounging on some of the couches: Githyanki, Warmongers and Mindlashers; the one who seemed to be the leader was armed only with a silver dagger.

“They don’t seem to be expecting us,” she told herself, noting they had left their weapons — except that silver dagger — piled on their gear nearby. “I better report back to the others.”

They seemed to be gathered around a pool of water in the center of the lounge.

“Might be just the thing that Andrea was hoping to find when she brought that bottle.”

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