Most of them were here only briefly while riding Baba Yaga's steeds to Buyan, but Rorik is a bit more experienced, having traveled through the Astral to reach Sigil five months ago. It is a realm of the mind, and the party, especially Jimothy, are surprised to realize that their physical abilities are not as potent here as they might be in the material world. In response to the party's questions, the mimir that has been gathering dust in Rorik's bag flies out and explains that all things on the Astral are actually translations of physical objects into thought-forms. Thus, one's brains are more important than their brawn.
Seeking to prove he is strong no matter where he is, Jimothy challenges Rorik to an Astral arm-wrestling rematch, since he is actually HERE now and not just dreaming, but is still defeated with ease (NAT 20!). The paladin starts doing Astral push-ups, Brublind floating up and sitting cross-legged on his back, with Piper on top of the slaad's head.
Though the party had discussed going to the Abyss as their first stop, in order to fulfill the deal between Jimothy and Ahazu using the ring-bound spirit of Fraz-Urb'luu, Mye-kuhl Jancer has only one destination in mind as he wills the ship forward: Orcus.
An enormous white tube gently wriggles in the distance. Rorik's mimir explains that this tube is an astral conduit—passageways connecting the Material Plane to the Heavens and Hells. It is through these conduits that the prayers of the faithful and the spirits of the dead flow to the divinities of the Great Ring. Jancer says that, whatever it is, he likes the way it moves—just more evidence that the Beat is the base state of the multiverse. Jimothy prays, hoping to see it go into the conduit, but no such luck. They decide not to get too close to it.
An indeterminate amount of time later (not that time exists on the Astral, of course), Osana spots something floating off the port bow. It is a nude, glowing old man with a long beard, as well as a silver "umbilical cord" that trails behind him a few feet before disappearing. Jimothy wants to ask him for directions, and learns that he is a wizard, a wizard who Rorik points out is here through 'Astral Projection'. The wizard introduces himself as Ephemelon. Everyone looks at Brublind, but it is Torutori who opens her mouth, and says in Brublind's voice, "That's a stupid name." Everyone except for Jim, Rorik, and Breezy start insulting the wizard for no reason, and he zooms away.
It isn't long before a large sphere materializes ahead of the Wave Dancer. As the ship approaches, the party can see that the sphere is made up of thousands upon thousands of undead, unable to move of their own volition on the Astral Plane because they lack the mental capacity to do so. Jancer can sense a familiar thrum coming from within the Bonecloud however, and says that they must press on. Jimothy goes to the front of the ship, and raising Corpsebane before him, turns the undead. The bodies retreat, creating a tunnel just large enough for them to pass through. In the hollow beyond, the god-corpse of Orcus floats, almost seeming to reach out towards the new arrivals.
Jancer flies down to the outstretched hand, and heads for the petrified demon lord's screaming maw. As he enters, a shadow peels off of the cavern wall in the shape of a portly mage.
"At last… my champion has arrived."
The shadowy mage continues to speak as he falls onto his hands and knees, his body distorting as it transforms into that of a dretch, telling Jancer that before he (Orcus) can be brought back to the world of the living, there are things that must be done. The dretch bloats and sprouts vestigal wings as it turns into a nalfeshnee. First, Orcus's foremost vassal, Doresain the King of Ghouls, and his followers has to be brought back into the fold to feed the demon prince with their worship. The nalfeshnee's wings expand and its hair catches fire as it becomes a balor. Second, Jancer needs to seek out Acererak, a lich who served as Orcus's high priest before his demise, as the lich was a source of many souls in the prince's domain. The balor's head twists into that of a goat, and a skull-tipped wand appears in his hand. Third, the demon must be reunited with his Wand, stolen by a vile daughter of Lolth after Kostchtchie killed him. Only then can they make all beings in existence dance…
"Right on, baby~!"
Jancer returns to the Wave Dancer with a new purpose, and though his fellows tell him that he's being used by the Prince of Undeath, Jancer assures them that he "has a plan". Jimothy and Rorik look at each other with worried looks, while Brublind remembers the chance he had to collapse a cave onto the necrodancer and wonders if he made the right choice.
Departing, the party find a two-dimensional, sixty foot diameter circle of rippling amethyst color floating in the Astral. Rorik identifies it as a color pool—a color-coded portal connecting the Astral to one of the Outer Planes, in this case… The Abyss.
The Wave Dancer passes through the color pool and appears in the otherwordly green sky over a parched wasteland. Above hangs a heavy red sun, while below is an iron fortress, built upon the lip of a bottomless pit. Thousands of shapes move over and around the fortress, then suddenly, a fireball shoots up at the party's ship. Jancer tries to move out of the way, but…!
Torutori is thrown overboard as the explosion rocks the ship. Breezy leaps over the side after her. The rest of the party spot a swarm flying in their direction from down below. Jancer pulls out his Wand of Wonder, and a 'Fireball' shoots out, engulfing the approaching enemies. For a moment, it seems as if the swarm has been vaporized, but then the devils swoop out of the explosion, seemingly unscathed!
Rorik sends 'Eldritch Blasts' at the swarm to cover Breezy's rescue attempt as best he can, but the imps just keep coming! Brublind uses 'Telekinesis' to grab Torutori himself however, and Breezy zips right on past her. Jim tells everyone to stay close so he can protect them.
The imps fall upon the Wave Dancer, stabbing with red-hot pitchforks. Jancer ducks and dodges around the blows, while Brublind takes quite a walloping. Rorik lazily bats one away as the fiend's pitchfork snaps against his armor, and then holds out his A.R.M.S., three 'Eldritch Blasts' blowing several devils harassing Breezy out of the air. Jimothy also throws a javelin that way, skewering two of the imps—a two-for-one deal (NAT 20)! The devils yank the Broom of Flying out of Breezy's hand however. Rorik shouts and jumps off the ship as Torutori is brought back aboard.
Jancer is able to discern the devils' flight pattern, and snaps his mithril-gloved fingers to send a 'Lightning Bolt' through their ranks. Dozens of the imps are instantly fried, their bodies crashing into the deck and exploding into piles of ash upon impact. Enraged, the flying fiends go after the necrodancer with a vengeance (TWO NAT 20s!!!).
Through the opening left by the lightning, the party spot an armored warrior, festooned in spikes, riding atop a nightmare. The hell knight rears back, and orders his subordinates to "disperse these demon-lovers at once—Asmodeus commands it!"
Jimothy clicks his heels and activates his S.H.O.E.S. The paladin leaps, digging the boot-mounted hooks into the side of the hell knight's steed as he assaults the rider with radiant energy using Corpsebane. The knight kicks Jim in the face with his spiked spurs. Brublind casts 'Fly' on Artorias, and the red slaad happily croaks as he begins flying around, clawing at the hell knight and swallowing whole mouthfuls of imps.
Rorik falls, fiends impacting against his armor as he goes. He catches Breezy's broom, tucks it between his legs, and zooms after the free-falling sorceress, who is desperately trying to slow her descent with a 'Gust of Wind'! The eldritch knight bursts from the swarm of imps, grabs her, and flies back up as fast as he can. Bolts are fired up at them from the fortress below, one piercing Rorik through the leg.
The badly-wounded Jancer casts 'Greater Invisibility' on himself, and rolls out of the imp swarm before firing a volley of 'Magic Missiles'. Rorik and Breezy land beside him.
Meanwhile, Jimothy tries a good ol' fashioned wrasslin' suplex to separate the hell knight and his nightmare. They are evenly matched at first (both got a 22), but Jimothy misjudges the strength of his fiendish opponent, who then completely reverses the move on the paladin and flings him, end-over-end, over the side (NAT 20—30 TOTAL!!!).
Brublind quickly casts 'Feather Fall' on everyone he can see, including Jimothy, only to realize too late that the hell knight is now looming over him from behind. Searing pain shoots through the slaad as the hellfire lance impales him twice. Torutori deflects a third blow against her crewmate, but catches it herself. Her feather coat catches fire and she starts to panic. Furious, Artorias pounces onto the nightmare's haunches, tearing into the foul antipaladin from behind. The nightmare kicks Artorias off, but the distraction gives Brublind the chance he needs to nope out of there by hopping overboard!
With Jimothy's fear-suppressing aura away from the ship, the hell knight shouts a terrifying command to the party, ordering them to "lay down your weapons, or suffer the fate of all those who oppose the might of Baator!" before kicking off the deck in a flash of flame and taking to the air as he rides, lance out, towards the falling Jimothy.
Rorik, who had begun charging to save his comrades, suddenly feels a wave of supernatural dread crash into him, stopping him in his tracks. Torutori stomps out her burning coat, and stands with sword-drawn and knees quaking over Osana, who is cowering by a ballista. Artorias simply jumps after Brublind, hands over his eyes.
Breezy, though shaken, activates her broom and heads full-tilt for Jim. She grabs the goliath just as the hell knight's lance comes in for a killing blow. The devil's nightmare snorts flame as its rider growls, "Never get between a hell knight and his prey." Rorik watches on, horrified and unable to do ANYTHING, as one, two, three blows land on Breezy. The sorceress, Jim, and her broom go plummeting towards the plain below as she falls unconscious.
Jancer starts to shake his shoulders and tap his feet as he says, "You think you're bad? You ain't bad—you ain't nothin'! Just wait 'til I get through with you… because you KNOW I'm BAD, BABY!" He grabs his crotch with a "WOO~!", thrusts, and points upwards as a 'Finger of Death' springs forth, hitting the hell knight square in the back!
Fiery blood spurts from the gaps in his armor as the touch of pure negative energy pulses through his body. He turns slowly towards Jancer, his eyes coals of malice as he comes about.
Brublind glides over onto Artorias's back, and reminds his slaad brother that he can fly. Artorias looks as if he's just been told the meaning of life as he turns his fall into a magnificent barrel roll back up onto the deck of the Wave Dancer. As he lands, the remaining imps begin to retreat as fast as they can. Brublind lets out a "Heh", and Torutori tips her hat at him as she mimics the "Heh". A shadow blocks the sun behind the slaads. Osana and Toru's faces drop.
Suddenly, Jimothy comes to (NAT 20 DEATH SAVE—AGAIN)! He realizes that, while he is feather falling, Breezy is not, and dives after her. He wraps his arms around her limp body and gives her a 'Lay on Hugs' as they slowly descend.
Rorik lets out a sigh of relief, then a flash of green light brings his eyes back up to the hell knight, who has just been struck by a beam of energy that blows him and his steed apart! Everyone's eyes turn to look into the smoking maw of a gargantuan skull that serves as the prow of an even more gargantuan ship. A handsome and all too familiar giant with obsidian skin steps forward with a smirk…
"Ah, my favorite adventurers! You should have told me you were coming. I would have made your welcoming party much more… enjoyable."