The Coalition's War

The Red Exarch
To return Gith to the throne, the heroes must brave the Chromatic Bastion.

After the debate concluded, the Champions rested for a time in the hidden rooms of the Morningstar Inn, where they would be safe from the probing eyes of the now-constant patrols of Zetch’r’r’s kill squads. As they made ready to leave, they caught sight of a strange collection of arcanists gathering in the square outside the inn. It seemed they were casting a communication ritual of some kind.

Unable to disrupt the ritual without calling attention to the inn (and therefore endangering Gith), the five were forced to wait until the mages cleared out. Upon the spell’s completion, a larger-than-life image of the Emperor was called into being, towering over his minions. He called for the unconditional surrender of the Coalition members in his city, or at least for their traitorous abettors to cease sheltering them. To demonstrate his resolve to expunge his city of the outsiders, he made an example out of a traitor he’d already found: Bram Ironfell. As the Champions watched helplessly, Bram was led into the perimeter of the image, where he tearfully apologized to his nephew Thoradin before being impaled on Zetch’r’r’s sword and fed to a huge red dragon.

Legion snickered. He’d been well aware of how close they came to rescuing the poor dwarf before the rest of the group simply forgot him, and bringing the failure to Komè’s attention was endlessly amusing. Ionen denounced the kalashtar as a failure and a hypocrite, but was silenced as the cleric roared in frustration and ordered that the group focus on the task at hand: bringing the fight to Zetch’r’r.

Gith revealed her plan: she would rally the githyanki in the city who were not loyal to the Emperor and stage a violent coup. With her forces scattered throughout the city and able to commandeer numerous astral ships, the pawn of Tiamat would have no choice but to dispatch all the forces at his command to quell the uprising. Without reinforcements, they would surely fail, but the Chromatic Bastion (the Emperor’s fortress) would be largely unguarded, open to attack by the Champions. If they could remove him from the throne, the outcome of the battle would no longer matter, as Tu’narath would still be free from his rule.

And so, the Champions set forth, easily making their way to the front door of the Bastion with no opposition while the patrols dealt with the Separatists. It resembled an overlarge cathedral, complete with intricate windows of stained glass surrounding the doors of solid iron. In the entry room waited a single obstacle to their further progress: a floating, black, gem-studded spine. Zan-kyri correctly identified it as a demilich, created using the remains of Vlaakith. Its power was vast, and were it not for Zan’s ability to turn his lightning spells to radiant energy, the battle would have been far more difficult. Despite its disadvantage, in the moment before its defeat it was able to capture the soul of Legion, which it stored in an amethyst soul gem.

With good reason, the Champions were less than shaken up about the loss, and continued on.

In the next chamber, two young red dragons crouched at the far end of twin pools of burning naptha, the heat so oppressive that it blurred the vision of everyone but Blank and Ionen. Ever scheming to apply his elemental prowess in new ways, Ionen summoned a storm of frozen energy to quench the fires, returning the room to a normal temperature. After that, one of the dragons was quickly vanquished, while the other submitted to Ionen’s overbearing presence. It revealed the location of the throne room – behind a statue in the next room – before fleeing.

Continuing on, the Champions were ambushed upon opening the next door, and by none other than Do’kan. He and his companions – a kryizoth fire mage and a pair of ghostly sentries – put up a valiant resistance, but in the end were bested by the Champions’ superior firepower. Blank convinced the lieutenant that a second Coalition team had infiltrated the fortress at the same time, and that the Emperor was already dead. Robbed of his purpose for fighting, Do’kan threw down his true silver longsword and quit the fortress to throw in with Gith.

The statue they’d been warned of was warded against nongithyanki, but Komè and Zan-kyri still bore the whitefire marks given by Bejam, and had no trouble moving it out of the way. As they entered the Emperor’s chambers (a small three-story tower with the ceiling open to the sky), they heard him arguing with someone: the huge dragon they had seen devour Bram. It introduced itself as Vraxanault, the red exarch of Tiamat.

Zetch’r’r materialized through a teleportation platform, dealing an impossibly deadly blow to Zan-kyri before the genasi could react. Seconds later, Zan lay dying on the floor, his robes alight from the dragon’s fire. Komè returned him to vigor with a word of healing, while Ionen pummeled Vraxanault with piercing cold magic, and Blank forced the two uneasy allies to attack each other. Dazed and battered, Zetch’r’r fell to the onslaught all too soon, forcing Vraxanault to accept that he was now battling alone against a superior force, and with no reward for victory. He fled the tower while Komè cursed his luck – now he would never be able to recover Bram’s body to return him to life.

Still, the battle was over, and the future of Tu’narath was secured. As they prepared to leave by the way they’d came in, the Sacrifice appeared above the tower. Erdanen and Mr. Paradox had arrived too late to join the attack, but the ride (and the food they’d brought) was none the less appreciated. Ionen and Blank made their introductions, and the ship changed course to visit the red dragon caves at the south end of the city. There, Gith presented the scepter of Ephelomon liberated from the Emperor’s corpse, and shattered it.

“Children of Ephelomon, I release you from the pact,” she said. The dragons seemed angered, but understanding. They took their leave peacefully, but warned her that they were returning to Tiamat, and would be enemies henceforth. As the wyrms vacated the city for the first time since its founding, Gith thanked the heroes for all they had done, and bade them give her best wishes to Amyria. The Coalition’s War was over.

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The City of Death
The Champions fight through the streets of their enemy's home, searching for the unlikeliest of allies.

Komè’s demeanor was soured by the pointless death of Trethix, but the others consoled him with the fact that it was now possible to move forward with their plans. Reluctantly, he used the residuum gifted by Scaramandar to open the way to Tu’narath with a casting of the Linked Portal ritual.

In the space of a breath, they found themselves in an alleyway in the Market District of the City of Death. Legion shook with anticipatory glee as he felt himself enter the presence of the dead god, whom he referred to as Amaan. Zan-kyri quailed at the realization that he stood on the corpse of a deity, but was soon distracted as a number of dragonborn rounded the corner towards them.

Apparently, the coordinates that Scaramandar had given them were not as secure as Blank had hoped. One of Zetch’r’r’s kill squads had arrived to deal with them, led by a githyanki dread knight and an undead blackweaver. Swiftly, they closed on the party on both sides of the alley, but the Champions were ready. Komè warded off the dragonborn reavers’ triple flails with powerful words of peace, while Zan used a strange crown to change his lightning magic into radiant energy, which he used to unravel the blackweaver. Legion scuttled up the wall, far out of the reach of the enemies, and rained eldritch havoc on his cursed foes.

Stumbling free of the ambush with the kill squad dead at their feet, the Champions wandered into a central square of the district, where a robed dragonborn approached them after seeing Komè’s standard. He introduced himself as Ionen, and claimed he was destined to inherit the power of Io, father of the sibling dragon gods. The group was wary of this stranger – for any dragonborn in Tu’narath had to be working for Tiamat. Ionen freely admitted that he was, but only to further his own goals. He had been following the Coalition’s progress in the war for some time now, and came to the realization that the quickest end to this power struggle between Bahamut and his sister would be to help the Champions end the war itself. Ionen summarized by saying that any quarreling between the two deities was undesirable to him – if either of them were to be slain, it would make it impossible for him to reclaim Io’s power from them.

Before the party could agree to trust him, seven angels descended from above the rooftops, blocking off three sides of the square. Down the fourth lumbered a great blue dragonborn, easily a dozen feet or more in height, and carrying a gigantic falchion that crackled with electricity. Ionen ordered him to leave, but the bluespawn merely snorted an insult in the draconic tongue, and intoned that it had grown tired of Ionen’s heretical views. It had worked with him long in the city, but now it seemed happy to execute this traitor.

The battle was extremely brief, with Zan and Blank dispersing the angels readily. The bluespawn launched Ionen around the square with awesome blows, but as his allies were slain and his wounds becoming more numerous, Ionen managed to convince him that victory was impossible. “Go and tell the others of my power,” he said. “And that Tiamat will lose this war.”

Having shown up even Legion in destructive arcane power, and proven his allegiance by allowing the divine servants of Tiamat to be killed in his presence, the group was convinced to let Ionen come along, if only for the moment. A crowd had gathered to watch the battle (at a distance), and the sorcerer had the means to offer them temporary shelter from further kill squads until they could determine their next move. He led them to an abandoned home, former property of a githyanki sergeant slain during one of the many battles on the Mortal World. It was more tightly locked than he remembered, but Zan used a teleportation trick to get inside from the second floor. There they slept, safe from the githyanki patrols while Legion kept watch alongside Blank’s dream form.

After consulting with Ionen, the Champions’ goals became clearer. Bram Ironfell was likely taken to one of the githyanki battle platforms orbiting the city: the Fortress of Three Sorrows. To get there, they’d need to commandeer an astral craft, and the simplest way to accomplish that was to get in touch with the Separatists, rumored to be based in the Morningstar Inn. So, timing their sprint to slip through a pair of patrols, they managed to make their way across the district, where they met the acquaintance of Gharvag. He informed them that he could had no such power to authorize an alliance between them, not with their leader in Zetch’r’r’s custody. The Champions were frustrated to be sure – they had come so far, only to be denied the one goal which Amyria herself had tasked them with.

“It cannot be helped,” assured Gharvag. “Our leader is Vlaakith herself, and our forces will obey no one else.”

Vlaakith? How? The Lich Queen had been dead for a quarter-century! Eagerly, the Champions asked Gharvag to explain how she could be back. He corrected himself: he was speaking of a new Vlaakith; the 158th of her line. Still, it seemed incredible – the 157th had suffered no heirs in her paranoia that she would be usurped. This new Vlaakith was not named so because of her heritage, but because she knew things about githyanki history that only the original Vlaakith I could know. Because of this (and the fact that Zetch’r’r had abandoned the Eternal Crusade and so was unfit to lead), the Separatists had rallied around her… but without her they were uncoordinated rebels with no good replacement to put on the throne.

As it happened, Vlaakith was also being kept at Three Sorrows, so the heroes decided to kill two birds with one stone and headed out as soon as Gharvag could get them an astral skiff. They landed in the fortress’ hangar unchallenged, and in true Coalition fashion, blitzed their way through the unprepared defenders until they reached the room where Vlaakith was held.

Rather than face more githyanki guards, the Champions found themselves face to face with a pair of barbed devils, an archangel of Tiamat, and most unexpectedly of all: Dispater. The Iron Duke, Lord of the Second – an archdevil of terrible repute and prowess. What was a being so powerful doing here of all places?

Zan rushed forward, his impulsiveness getting the better of him as a fragment of the Gates of Hell slammed shut behind him. Without his friends to help him, he was quickly cut down, left to bleed out on the floor. The gates did not stand for long, however, and as soon as they descended, Legion, Komè, and Ionen surged through the doorway. The kalashtar set to reviving the foolish young genasi, while Legion and Ionen fought fire with fire (literally). Blank stood back from the action, littering the room with reality-distorting psionic explosions and throwing the devils into decorative piles. Dispater seemed more than capable of matching them blow for blow, until Legion proved his better. By using a little-known spell that drew on a pact Dispater often made with mortal warlocks, Legion was able to completely catch the archdevil off his guard and critcally wound him with his own power. His bodyguards defeated and the angel wounded, Dispater attempted to flee, but didn’t make it far before being killed. His body disintegrated into darkness – it was only his shadow.

Vlaakith thanked them for saving her, but Komè refused to release her from her bonds until she answered his questions. She revealed that she was not in fact, the Lich Queen, but Gith reborn. As part of the githyanki’s original pact with Tiamat, Gith had agreed to be a prisoner in Hell in exchange for the service of the red dragons, provided that Tiamat would never attempt to interfere with the Eternal Crusade. Now, with Zetch’r’r ignoring the Crusade to focus on the war against the Coalition, the original pact was broken, and she was free to return to Tu’narath, where she’d been attempting to lead her people out of bondage for the second time.

Satisfied with her story, the Champions left. One floor above, Bram sat in his cell, forgotten.

Back at the Morningstar Inn, Gith used her influence to call a meeting of githyanki nonloyalists, and gave the Champions the opportunity to win them over to their cause. With inspiring words by Komè and an amusing (but believable) sob story by Blank, the leaders unanimously voted to form an alliance with the Platinum Shield Coalition. In gratitude, Gith promised that if she were to gain the throne, she would institute a thousand years of peace between her people and the Mortal World, and begin more diplomatic relations with their lost kin, the githzerai.

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The Citadel Mercane
Blank guides the heroes to the Citadel to meet the Separatists.

After balking at Blank’s mysterious dream form, the Champions used a teleportation circle, arriving just outside of the Citadel Mercane. They found themselves at the base of a crimson mountain, at the beginning of a series of switchback footpaths leading up the slope, ending at a giant cleft in the rock. Blank – in a colorful, evocative tone – identified the locale as Blood Mountain, and that the Citadel was built inside of it.

The four (or perhaps five, if the tiefling counted twice) of them set to trudging up the arduous path, and after passing a mound of stone adorned with scraggly, leafless trees, three figures came into view. The first was a strange, blue-skinned male dressed in robes, cowering at the sight of two fearsome four-armed savages. As a native of the area, Blank immediately identified them as blood fiends – vicious abominations who used terror as well as their claws to obtain their meals.

But they were hardly a match for the Champions. With their new ally’s help, the party quickly trounced them, and the frightened bystander only suffered a single scratch, which Komé mended. He introduced himself as Mayhem, and immediately offered his services to help the heroes navigate the oft-confusing Citadel.

The inside of the mountain was a unique sight – the entire thing seemed hollowed out, the walls lined with giant red crystals stabbing outward. Mercantile stalls, booths, platforms, even entire buildings orbited in the air around a miniature planetoid in the center of the mountain, on which were built several large buildings.

Suddenly, a chorus of screams rang out as a large demon broke free from its display cage – exotic goods, indeed! It smashed around for awhile, while the Champions attempted to placate it, and eventually a team of maruts arrived to wrangle the thing back into its cage. With the threat eliminated, a woman calling herself Trethix arrived to thank them for their efforts in keeping the peace, and rewarded them with a small bag of platinum coins.

Blank urged the Champions to press onward to see her employer, Scaramandar, who could be found at Night, one of two taverns adjoining the largest inn in the community, the Dreaming Spire. They found the cambion surrounded by a harem of comely mortals, and he dismissed them quickly to offer a wide-armed welcome. Komè inquired as to the motivation behind his hospitality – not only was he loaning them Blank, but also giving them free board at the Dreaming Spire – but he was not forthcoming. He merely stated that it would be beneficial for him to make friends with such influential individuals. Unable to pry him any further, they asked for the whereabouts of their contacts in the Separatists, and were directed to the bartender in Day, Night’s sister tavern.

“Good luck,” he offered, smirking. “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again very soon indeed…”

The bartender hadn’t seen their githyanki contacts, though he had seen Bram Ironfell pass through, who left behind a package for the Champions. Upon taking it to their room, they discovered it was a fail-safe message he’d left, advising them that since his mission had failed, the only way to contact the Separatists would be to journey to Tu’narath itself.

Scaramandar’s last words left the Champions highly suspicious of his involvement on the matter, but Blank claimed ignorance of any foul play on his part. Mayhem, upon having Bram described to him, informed them all that he’d seen the dwarf captured by a creature resembling a huge blue dragonborn, accompanied by a half-dozen or so dark angels bearing Tiamat’s symbol. They slew his githyanki associates, but for some reason, the maruts who patrolled the Citadel never showed up to stop them.

Lacking further leads, the party returned to Scaramandar to consult his knowledge on the matter. Komé, refusing to take chances, asked Legion to cover them stealthily from a hidden vantage point. The grinning merchant said he knew nothing of their contact’s fate, but he did have a way for them to get to Tu’narath if only they would do him a favor – kill Trethix.

The party argued for some time over what to do next. Legion and Blank opted for the assassination option, while Zan-kyri and Komé held out hope that a less morally reprehensible option would present itself given time. In the end, the two do-gooders were placated by gathering the opinions of the Citadel’s inhabitants, who pretty much agreed that Trethix was responsible for the deaths of the previous rulers, and likely deserved whatever fate was in store for her, whether by their hand or not.

Still, Komé persisted in attempting a diplomatic approach, and met Trethix by the entrance to the Inner Sphere with his friends’ weapons sheathed. Trethix seemed livid at the fact that they seemed to know where she would be, and had dared to approach her with any weapons at all at the one point in her day where she was most vulnerable. She claimed that she was warned about them, and refused to listen to reason, ordering her marut guardians to attack.

Blank did away with many of her guards, while Zan-kyri hopped into the middle of the Sphere’s sealed portal, giggling as the lightning from its wards danced harmlessly across his skin. The battle went on for some time, and reinforcements started to pour out of the seal, until finally Legion blew Trethix’s head off with a well-placed Eldritch Blast. As he scooped up her head, everyone made a break for safety, leaving Legion to be pummeled with greatswords. Under the rain of steel, he clambered onto Trethix’s levitating palanquin, and took off into the sky before the maruts could manage to knock him out.

Battered and feeling guilty for being forced to kill a woman they didn’t even know, the party reconvened on the outside of Blood Mountain. There, they met Scaramandar, who rewarded them with a small box of residuum and the sigil sequence to an isolated spot in Tu’narath. To Blank, he also awarded a strange hourglass, and released her from his service.

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Chapter 12, A Tyranny of Souls
Amyria finds new allies to bring the end of the War closer than ever before.

After witnessing the death of Bugug, Jett reversed his sword, his hands shaking as he prepared to take his own life in atonement. Erdanen Torrance rushed across the deck of the Sacrifice, slapping the swordmage in the face and knocking the blade away. “We all make mistakes,” the bard said, gripping his friend by the shoulders and forcing him to make eye contact. “But you can’t just end your story like that. I won’t let you.”

When asked for a casualty report, Guts and Erdanen chose to hide the truth from their superiors, claiming that the enemy vessel had crashed on its own and Bugug was just to slow to escape from it. Guts searched the wreckage for remains, but the bugbear’s destruction proved to be to complete for magical resurrection. Erdanen gave the crystal key to Haryssus, who suggested that the wisest course of action would be to use it to destroy the Well of Worlds so it could never fall back under githyanki control.

Before this plan could be enacted, however, Bram Ironfell stepped forward, requesting that he use the Well’s Sovereign Gate in a one-way trip before it closed forever. He wanted to repay the Coalition for taking him in, even after betraying them in Chapter 10, Throne of the Stone-skinned King. He claimed that by exploiting the previous contacts he made among the githyanki, he could explore Tu’narath long enough to locate the Separatists, a sect of githyanki with no notions of loyalty to Emperor Zetch’r’r, whom the Champions had become acquainted with in the Fane of Chaniir.

It was a risky plan – few, if any, nongithyanki were allowed in Tu’narath. Even with his established reputation as a willing spy for their war efforts, he would be under constant scrutiny due to their xenophobia. Bram’s nephew, Thoradin Ironfell, begged his uncle to take him along for his own safety, but the older dwarf would have none of it. He forbid Thoradin from following him, claiming that he would have to go alone to reclaim the honor he had cost his clan, not to mention that the githyanki were under no illusions that Bram’s nephew was an ally to them. The Champions agreed, and Bram left, alone.

The Champions rested for a time in Sayre, taking lodging in the River Jewel or Telicanthus’ liberated manse. Jett faded from the public eye, while Erdanen went with Mr. Paradox to make repairs and modifications to the damaged Sacrifice, currently moored in the now-captured astral shipyard, Garaitha’s Anvil.

After a time, Amyria called forward three Champions for a new task: negotiating an alliance with the Separatists. Apparently, Bram had been successful in reaching out to them, and they had sent an envoy to meet with the Coalition’s leader to set up a meeting on neutral ground – an astral trade center known as the Citadel Mercane. Komè, Zan-kyri, and Legion (but mostly the first two) would be in charge of negotiating the terms of the alliance. They would be guided to the Citadel by Blank, a tiefling psion whose services were generously provided by a local merchant known as Scramandar.

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Battle for the Key, part 2

Pushed to their limit, the party knew they would have to rely on the special restorative potions they discovered back in the Well of Worlds. Imbibing just a small flask of it would refresh the drinker as though he’d slept a full night – but there were only three to go around, as Komé had kept his. Jett, having taken the brunt of the enemies’ attacks, drank his potion, but the other two opted to save theirs until the Cev’ren was in sight.

And of course, the ship was just around the corner… and defended by two githyanki cadres behind a tall barricade of well-placed crates. Guts was the first to rush into the fray, but he was knocked silly by a fusillade of psychic shots from the githyanki archers. Jett followed shortly after, teleporting behind the barricade before erupting in fiery and necrotic bursts, wiping out several corsair cutters all at once. The shipmaster who led them retaliated, and with the aid of four archers, managed to put Jett in a tight spot. Guts tried to help, but was waylaid by a gish warmaster calling for his blood – the githzerai’s oaths would not let him abandon his foe.

By the time Bugug finally climbed the ladder to the platform, more than half the enemy lay dead, but those that remained were doing a more than passable job of wearing down Guts and Jett. Seeing Jett’s predicament, he leaped over the crates and cut down all four archers in as many seconds. Without even waiting for a word of thanks, he then turned around to set his sights on the gish.

Meanwhile, Erdanen had been busy cleaning up the rest of the corsair cutters, but he managed to find his friends just in time to revitalize them with his majestic words. With all four of them working in concert, the two cadre leaders soon fell, but not before the Cev’ren cast off, heading for the gate high above.

Conveniently, Mr. Paradox chose this moment to reveal himself – Bejam had sent him and the Sacrifice in the event that a ship was needed to end the fight. All four clambered aboard as the child prodigy wheeled the vessel skyward in search of Kada’ne and his key. Bugug drank his potion, while Erdanen gave up his to Guts. When the Sacrifice finally caught up to the Cev’ren, the Champions secured three of their mooring lines to the enemy ship to keep it from escaping.

As Kada’ne drew his blade and ordered his men to bring him the heads of the interlopers, Erdanen drew forth his songblade and split the sky with a heroic theme he’d composed for the Coalition. Emboldened by these notes, each of his friends seemed to grow stronger with each opponent who fell before them – and by the time they managed to corner Kada’ne, they were unstoppable!

In a fit of rage, Jett smashed the controls to the Cev’ren, causing it to begin a death spiral. Erdanen and Guts scrambled to cut the lines connecting it to their own ship, while Jett jumped off the dying vessel and burnt the last line after he was across.

All three looked on in horror as the ships lurched away from each other, creating an impossible gap with Bugug still stranded on the Cev’ren. Jett cried out as he realized he’d doomed his ally, while Bugug jumped, falling far short of his goal. The poor bugbear fell a hundred feet onto solid stone and survived, only to watch the ship crash right on top of him.

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Battle for the Key, Part 1

All at once, the Hundred vanished through the portals, appearing in scattered around the docking platforms at Garaitha’s Anvil. No sooner had they arrived then the circles behind them went dark, overwhelmed by the power of the Well of Worlds – Bejam and Haryssus had made good on their promise.

Squads of dwarven shock troops, flights of elven rangers mounted on griffons, and human knights on horseback crashed into the ill-prepared githyanki and fomorian guards. The alarm went up almost immediately, and the defenders were soon fighting back in earnest. But even with so few to face them, the githyanki’s victory was far from assured: for nearly every single member of the Platinum Champions was present – Cryo Hammer, Zan-kyri, Anton, Komè, Thoradin Ironfell, Sokaris, and Legion; all of them were fighting at the head of the vanguard, driving a swath through the githyanki with the Freeriders at their side. Bressal was absent, still on a quest to find himself after the death of Gallia. Mr. Paradox also remained in Sayre to prepare the Sacrifice, should it be needed for a last-ditch assault or distraction.

But those assembled were merely a distraction. Bugug, Erdanen Torrance, Guts, and Jett were given the most important task. Indeed, Amyria’s entire reason for the risky assault gambled on the chance that these four could succeed without the help of a proper army; it was up to them to locate Kada’ne, Admiral of the githyanki armada and keeper of one of the three remaining crystal keys that would allow the Coalition to control the Well of Worlds.

The four split off from the bulk of the Hundred, heading for the repair complex where their intelligence indicated the Cev’ren, the admiral’s ship, would be docked. As proof of the githyanki race’s mastery of warfare, an entire cadre of gish crusaders (led by an astraan and three reavers) blocked their progress, heedless of the larger force. Jett managed to clear out the crusaders while Bugug tore into the reavers. Erdanen played support while Guts tore across the battlefield, swearing an oath of pursuit against the nigh-helpless astraan.

As reinforcements began pouring in, Erdanen reminded everyone that they were there for the key, not the violence. The entrance to the building stood over sixty feet off the ground, with only a rickety series of scaffolds affording anyone access. Bugug pushed a crate down, allowing the bard to climb up. Jett teleported, but was knocked off and had to be rescued by a resourceful Erdanen using a crane meant for lifting building supplies. Guts was knocked off as well, but took the direct route up by scaling the stone walls.

Once inside, the group barred the doors, leaving the foes outside to deal with the Hundred. They proceeded to the main hall and turned right, discovering a pair of eldritch giants summoning in fomorian guards armed with halberds. Bugug and Guts made short work of the giants while Jett and Erdanen covered each other and picked off the guards.

Backtracking, they ran into a pair of fire giants carrying slag missiles down the corridor. Guts obliterated them without a second’s consideration. Inside the chamber at the hall’s end, they found fire giants innumerable! Each was slaving over a hot forge or anvil, fiery hammers clanging as they shaped weapons and ammunition for the battle outside. Bugug charged in, but was ambushed from the side by several giants who’d hid when they heard him coming.

The giants proved as resilient as they were clever, but the Champions refused to leave any foes behind them, choosing instead to stand their ground. Erdanen planted the Standard while Jett used his mastery over flame to draw the heat of the incoming attacks into himself, neutering most of the attacks the elementals could muster.

When only one giant remained, it threw down its weapon and cowered before its betters, who were barely even injured from the ordeal. Guts threatened to send it to its former companions if it didn’t help them find the Cev’ren. The poor bastard, half sobbing, informed them that a wall of force was put over the doors in the room ahead – there was no way for the Champions to break through it. So the four of them decided that the giant would carry some slag missiles to the next room, and they’d slip in when the wall was taken down for him. As they forced the giant to gather up ammunition to make the ruse look good, Erdanen happened upon a fantastic new weapon – a Lilting Songblade with a hilt shaped like a treble clef, and a blade like a musical staff.

The idea went off exactly as planned. Having exhausted its usefulness, Guts decided to kill the giant rather than risk him helping the defenders or summoning reinforcements. This new area was open to the air, and an astral skiff could be seen docked just off the landing they stood on, though the vessel was too small to be the Cev’ren. At least they were headed in the right direction, but their progress was now blocked by a pair of gish warmasters and a handful of crusaders and fomorians.

Guts and Jett clashed with the warmasters, who screamed out their racial hatred for the githzerai and the Kalach. Bugug was confused by this hateful exchange, but gamely swung his oversized weapons into the warmasters anyway while Erdanen took up flanking positions. Jett let go with a tremendous burst of genasi fire, wiping out six opponents at once.

This prompted the two stronger foes to stop underestimating their foes, and they ordered the crusaders to sound the alarm. Guts cursed as the northern forcewall fell, ripping open the arcane panel and clumsily trying to re-activate the defenses. Erdanen sprang to help, and it soon became obvious that compared to him, Guts was just getting in the way. As a column of fomorian guards appeared at the open doorway, the avenger dashed to throw himself in front of them, refusing them access the room.

Seeing no other option, Erdanen plunged his songblade into the panel, causing it to explode and rain draining magic on the party, while another cadre of crusaders flooded the room. The other three glowered at him in frustration, but Erdanen merely shrugged as the forcewall actually came down, sealing the formorians behind it.

Now that further enemy reinforcements to the complex was completely impossible, the fight ended quickly. Drained of all their resolve, the heroes leaned on their swords as they pondered whether or not they’d be able to make it to the Cev’ren in one piece, let alone in time.

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The Hundred
Facing a Coalition divided by fear and complacency, Amyria and the Champions take matters into their own hands.

What need have I to help you/ When the troubles I see are thine?/ I’ll tell my knights to watch you burn/ And just defend what’s mine. - The Teller of Tales

The giant introduced himself as Haryssus, and offered his services to the Champions. He immediately went to work with Bejam, poring over the tomes in the libraries to find a way to take control of the Well away from the githyanki permanently.

The Freeriders made their return, along with many other lesser heroes from a dozen different Coalition lands. Legion showed his face again, berating the child-prodigy Dox for believing that putting his heart and soul into his magic made him stronger. “Spells are nothing more than a flash of power controlled by words and gestures. Emotions are distractions, and distractions will get you killed.” No one shared his sentiments.

Komè found a tome bound in illithid hide that gave details on a transfer of power in Tu’narath, offering new insight into the lives of Zetch’r’r, Vlaakith, and githyanki in general. Jett found a tome detailing how to undo a githyanki’s mental possession, which could have been used to save Gallia.

Eventually, Haryssus and Bejam announced their findings: the only way to gain control over the Well of Worlds was to be in possession of one of four crystal keys. One was held by Vlaakith, and presumably destroyed along with her. The other three were held by Zetch’r’r, Do’kan, and Kada’ne.

As Do’kan’s location was unknown, and Zetch’r’r was likely to be far too protected, the Champions opted to attempt to steal Kada’ne’s key. The only problem – Kada’ne was currently commanding the vessel known as Cev’ren, docked in Utargaraith, or Garaitha’s Anvil – the main shipyard of the githyanki armada. Even with the whitefire marks, any entry into the shipyard by nongithyanki would be instantly noticed, and a good portion of the armada would descend upon the unlucky few who ventured there. This was no job for a small group of Champions, this was a job for an army.

Amyria called to order a meeting among the few Platinum Shield Coalition council members that had made the trip to the Fane of Chaniir. She, Bejam, and many of the Champions implored them to authorize sending an army to Garaitha’s Anvil on a mission to raze the shipyard and secure the key. Quelenna Entromiel spearheaded the efforts of the members that opposed her plans, calling it a suicidal effort. She and the others, including Caliandra and Eoffram Troyas, argued that at this point in the war, they didn’t have the men to waste on risky targets like these, and wished instead to keep their troops at home to defend their lands.

The debate continued until Quelenna called for a more organized vote to take place in Sayre. Amyria knew that by the time such a meeting could begin, the githyanki would already have overrun and reclaimed the Well, so she promptly used her power as Coalition Leader to assume command over all troops currently stationed at the Well and the Fane, including the Champions themselves – a hundred in total. The other leaders were not pleased, but they could do nothing to contest her, as she only needed their permission to command armies, not groups of soldiers this small.

Emboldened by this brave move, the Hundred assembled outside the Fane while Nefelese mages drew teleportation circles in preparation for the coming assault.

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The Well of Worlds, part 2

After dispatching the Astral Shade, the four Champions found themselves in a much larger circular chamber that encompassed the dome around the Sovereign Gate. It seemed to be made of a strange white stone, resembling marble or even ivory, and furnished with dozens of leather couches, some of them piled high with weapons and other gear. It was a makeshift bivouac for elite githyanki strike teams, and one of them was making use of it.

Jett volunteered to serve as a distraction while the rest of the party circled around from the other direction to take them by surprise. A solid plan, though it was foiled by Bugug’s clumsy approach. So began a lopsided battle, with an Astraan mage hampering the movements of the rest of the party while Jett struggled alone against several warmongers. At first, he seemed to hold his own against them, but he soon began to succumb to the overwhelming assault. Erdanen, his arcane power sealed by the astral power of the enemy mage, took out his father’s bow and shot true – the weapon seemed to strengthen the bard’s connection with the fickle fates of Avandra. Komè broke away from the rest of the fight to lend his healing arts to the troubled swordmage, and with the balance restored, the githyanki were wiped out.

Komè disagreed with the group’s use of lethal force. Having heard of the others’ encounter with the Faithful of Chaniir, he reasoned that any githyanki was a potential ally – and no different from the githzerai, in truth. Erdanen and Jett, however, had become weary from their prolonged conflict over Jett’s sword and argued that even if their enemies were not evil by their very nature, they would always be hostile. Jett had no intention of giving up Ruin Silme Megil, and both of them swore to fight any who opposed his ownership of the blade.

To illustrate the point that the githyanki would always be their enemies, Erdanen enlisted the help of Bugug…

Erdanen rubbed his temples, the strain of carrying on a telepathic argument with a kalashtar was beginning to take its toll. “Bugug, help me out here,” he implored.

“Um?” said Bugug.

“If I took your sword, what would you do?”

“Bugug kill you with other sword,” replied the blade-dancer.

The half-elf clapped his hands together. “See? Case in point. The githyanki see any outsider with a silver sword as a kalach – a thief. As long as Jett has it, he’s their enemy – and there’s no negotiating around that.”

Komè looked thoughtful, but Bugug’s eyes narrowed. “Why you ask about Bugug’s sword? You trying to steal Bugug’s sword!?” At this, he rose up to his full height, an angry scowl on his face and his twin bastard swords at the ready.

The bard shrunk back. “What? Steal? No. Nonono, oh gods no.” He hurried on ahead, eager to find a room filled with monsters that would distract his simple-minded friend.

As luck would have it, the next room contained a pair of eldritch giants. While they were well-mannered, they were ultimately servants of the githyanki and bound by their agreement to contest the party’s efforts in the Well. The battle was mercifully brief, although Erdanen couldn’t help but be worried at how Komè had hesitated when the two giants had promised him knowledge in exchange for defection.

The room following was home to a quartet of squamous horrors from the Far Realm, summoned by a strange ritual that left them bound into mirrors. They possessed the power to drag their prey into pocket dimensions, but they were easily thwarted by the party’s psychic attacks and overwhelming levels of violence. Once defeated, the party’s Portable Hole allowed them to bypass a locked floor grate and proceed to the final room.

Down a twisting stair they descended until they came into view of the Well’s library, no doubt containing all manner of helpful insights into its function, in addition to lost histories of the githyanki’s history and practices both arcane and psionic. Another eldritch giant labored here, but this one was bound by magical force-shackles. He told the party to leave or die, and of course, he was met with stout refusal.

Out of nowhere, a githyanki shade materialized, throwing them from the staircase into a churning vortex of radiant fluid below. Each Champion struggled to return to the platform, but it looked as though their opponent would knock them in again until being stupefied by Komè. Bugug was magically recalled to the cleric’s side, while Jett and Erdanen took turns saving each other. Once safely inside the library, the party fought more effectively, even convincing the giant to aid them in finally bringing down the last guardian in the Well.

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The Well of Worlds, part 1
Four Champions go alone into the Well of Worlds.

In short order, Bejam deduced that it was possible to bypass the wards the githyanki had placed on the Well of Worlds. A tattoo known as a Whitefire Mark could be applied to one’s arm, and its magic would allow its bearer to pass as a githyanki. The Thraxi had deduced this by perusing the tomes left in the Fane, and by analyzing the marks on the two fomorian painbringers the Champions defeated on the way in.

“The githyanki no doubt feel secure that the secret of the sigils is protected from those who might seek to subvert it,” said Bejam. “However, they have not reckoned with the craft of Nefelus.” The deva set about using his extensive knowledge of ritual magic to copy the whitefire marks, though it would be taxing. He reckoned he would only have the strength to apply it to four people before he needed to rest. Four people would have to enter the Well of Worlds unaided, slaying its keepers before they could notice that the patrol at the Fane had gone missing.

Bugug jumped at the opportunity; apparently, he’d not yet had his fill of battle. Komè, hoping to avoid bloodshed, volunteered his services. He felt that securing the Well would go a long way to convincing the githyanki to give up this needless war. Erdanen, bearing a longbow left to him by his father, also stepped forward in the hope that he might contribute to the war effort after such a long absence. His friend, Jett, vowed to stand by him.

After receiving the marks, the four of them left through the World Gate, appearing in a sigil-less teleportation circle in a blindingly-bright chamber. As their eyes adjusted to the infuriating amount of light, an astral shade appeared, attempting to catch the Champions by surprise. Komè pronounced a word of binding on it, rendering it helpless as Bugug slashed away at it with his two fullblade-sized swords. It only managed to lash out a handful of times before being destroyed utterly; hardly a challenge for such worthy paragons.

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Chapter 11, Garaitha's Anvil
A call from the borderlands demands the Coalition's attention, and they find more than they bargained for.

After returning safely from the expedition to the Feywild, the Champions lingered in Sayre for a time, resting after their hard-fought victory. Thoradin was commissioned to make the Champions a battle standard to lift their spirits in battle. Legion was asked to give up the Seed of Winter to its original owner. Erdanen Torrance returned from his long journey with Mr. Paradox, only to be informed of his father’s demise at the hands of Chillreaver after the events of Chapter 10. He did not take the news well, and tearfully accused his compatriots of falling short of their duties and violating his trust until his longtime friend, Jett, put his loss in perspective. Lucas and Keyleth, deciding that their services were no longer wanted, left the group without so much as a farewell.

Amyria called forward Anton and Bugug, offering them a chance to prove their worth to the Platinum Shield Coalition by taking on their first real assignment by accompanying Mr. Paradox and Cryo Hammer to a Coalition outpost in the northlands known as Thiradith. There had been reports of githyanki activity in the mountains there, and though their presence so far from concentrated civilization inspired suspicion in her, it was not enough to send an army away from lands that required protection.

It was then she discovered Lucas’ mysterious absence. Unwilling to ask Jett or Thoradin to take on another assignment so soon after their last, she volunteered on the spot to accompany them herself. Anton protested, but Amyria pulled rank.

Their journey was uneventful, but upon arriving, they discovered where Keyleth and Lucas had vanished to: they had joined a mercenary company known as the Freeriders, working under Megan Swiftblade. This reunion proved awkward for both parties, but they soon found distraction in their work. The garrison at Thiradith reported githyanki patrols in the surrounding area, as well as the discovery of several dead githyanki bodies. The Freeriders and Champions decided to jointly investigate.

After a brief search, the two groups found a conspicuous cliffside cavern, with two entrances on opposite sides of the cliff. Each group determined a ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy was appropriate, and resolved to meet somewhere in the middle.

The Champions encountered only light resistance once entering the cavern, and managed to dispatch the initial guards without raising an alarm. Bugug displayed his propensity for violence, but was greatly hindered by the enemy’s mental tricks. Further in, they encountered a group of githyanki prisoners bound together with rope and huddled against a wall, while a pair of fomorian guards brutally murdered one of their number. Dox summoned Shielder and set free the githyanki with his clockwork soldiers, while Amyria charged forward. She drew the fomorians’ ire and gave a few of the prisoners a chance to escape, though she eventually succumbed to their attacks after strangely refusing Dox’s attempts to heal her.

After the battle, Talanee, the leader of the prisoners, confirmed what Mr. Paradox had already known: they were keepers of this place, the Fane of Chaniir – a temple dedicated to an ancient githyanki mage of the same name who made great strides in discovering new methods of planar travel. This temple housed a special portal called a World Gate that allowed access to the Well of Worlds, a special demiplane reachable only by those of githyanki blood that allowed those who stood within it to teleport to anywhere in all of creation, with no need of a teleportation circle at the destination. What Dox hadn’t managed to guess, however, was that the githyanki at this temple did not agree with the plots of Zetch’r’r, and had sealed the World Gate in an attempt to limit the power of the Well of Worlds, since the circle also acted as a power source for it.

After clearing out the rest of the githyanki minions (accomplished swiftly between the recklessness of the Freeriders and the swarms of Anton), the two who remained of the hundred or so faithful of Chaniir took their leave of the Fane, but not before gifting Amyria with a vital piece of information: Zetch’r’r was indeed the new leader of the githyanki empire, but even he served a greater master: Tiamat herself. She was using the githyanki to further her own dark schemes, which included ending the life of her rival deity, Bahamut.

Shaken by this news, Amyria forced herself to focus on the task at hand, which was finding a way to counter this latest attempt by the enemy to gain a deadly advantage in the war: the ability to teleport their troops anywhere they desired. A strike team had to be sent to the Well of Worlds, but even Mr. Paradox’s shapeshifting abilities could not fool the ancient magics set in place to guard against the entry of other races. With no other recourse, she used the Champions’ sending stone to contact Bejam in Sayre, calling on his incredible arcane knowledge to solve their dilemma. Within minutes, Bejam stepped out of the liberated teleportation circle, accompanied by every remaining member of the Platinum Champions.

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