A massive stone shape looms above them—one of the god-isles, the petrified remains of dead deities, floating forever in the void. This particular figure is that of a bloated man with goat legs and the head of a ram, his face twisted into a roar of both agony and rage. Jancer and Brublind feel their souls being drawn towards this being's open mouth, but they suddenly feel themselves yanked back into the land of the living by Nylah's 'Revivify' spell.
Rorik's raven familiar, Enrico, returns, and the eldritch knight gathers the rest of the party to check out their ship, which he saw covered in blood. They find Sporp's pet elephant trying to get an impaled goblin off of one of its tusks. Jimothy would usually help, but isn't feeling very charitable to this creature after what it did to his hook horror friend. Rorik and Jancer head below deck, and, as he reaches the bottom of the stairs, Rorik gets a webbed foot to the head!
Pleedleplop apologizes, as he thought they were "more demonspawn". He asks them frantically where he went. Jancer asks who this "he" is. Pleedleplop's face darkens… "Demogorgon. I saw him. HE WAS HERE." Neither Jancer nor Rorik are sure what to make of this… or the goblin who they suddenly notice standing at attention beside the doorway, eyes forward, hand raised to their forehead in a salute. The Prince of Tindomeel appears and tells them not to worry about that, "as far as that goblin's concerned, he's the bravest, most loyal sailor in the Royal Fleet. As for the kuo-toa… I think he might just be losing his marbles." Rorik agrees that they should keep an eye on him, while Jancer suggests that they try and get him out and about, instead of letting him continue to isolate himself with the bodies of Roland and Krog.
Rorik goes to check up on Sporp, and runs into Saladesh in the hallway. The mummy is crouched over a goblin letting out a silent scream as the breath is drawn out of its lungs. Rorik gives this scene as wide a berth as he physically can. Knocking on the door ("he's at that age"), Rorik finds that the myconid appears to be fine. Sporp's a little grouchy, and asks what all the noise earlier was about, but the eldritch knight tells him not to worry about it.
Jimothy looks through the scattered viscera on the deck and picks up an orc brain. He notes that he heard orc tastes bad, but that maybe something will like it and take a shine to him… even if he doesn't have his hook horror anymore. Just then, the paladin spots five riders coming down from Brentil Keep towards the carnival grounds. The party goes to meet them.
At the head of the group rides a young high elf man dressed in blue robes; his hair is a pale blond, and he wears a sword decorated with a lidless eye at his hip. The other riders include a tanned archer with nasty-looking scars around his eyes; a bronze-scaled dragonborn warrior in black and gold armor; a blonde tiefling woman with ram horns and speckled skin; and a gnome, dressed in flamboyant green clothing and sporting a large, orange moustache.
The elf introduces himself as Grekas, court wizard of Brentil Keep.
Jancer fills the wizard in on what happened, and Grekas is surprised that the party was able to take on all these creatures. The necrodancer supposes it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, although, he points out, some of them did literally die. Grekas produces a jade dragon statuette and smashes it on the ground as he yells 'AWAKEN' in Draconic. The jade falls away to reveal a living, breathing creature beneath, which takes a message from its master and flies towards the Keep. Nylah's eyes light up.
While the other riders (except for the gnome) go off to tend to the wounded and secure the area, Grekas asks if they're the ones who showed up on that flying ship earlier, and he learns about the party's encounter with the githyanki. He is very interested in Jancer's silver sword, claiming to have seen one once before, not knowing what it was, and that his companions sold it to a smuggler before he could study it properly.
Rorik, who's been standing frozen with excitement since hearing the name 'Grekas', finally snaps out of it. This elf is not only court wizard of Brentil Keep, but a member of the Order of the Broken Tower, a society dedicated to the preservation of knowledge; and not just any member, but an eldritch knight, just like Rorik!
Rorik geeks out, introducing himself with what would be a sweaty handshake if not for his gauntlets. Grekas is delighted to meet a fan, as it's not exactly something he's used to. Rorik asks what the wizard's field of expertise is, and learns that Grekas specializes in planar magic; when Grekas tells him he seems like quite a well-armed fighter himself, Rorik explains he is skilled in both the martial AND magical, "but I'm sure you know all about that!" The eldritch knight lets out a dorky chuckle as he shows off his own familiar, Enrico, but Nylah steps in and tries to steal the spotlight with Algernon. She doesn't get far however, as they hear a commotion nearby.
The tanned archer has an arrow knocked in Shaela's direction, calling for help from his fellows. "I've caught the beast who caused this attack, gotta be!" Nylah and Jancer explain that this particular drow is with them, absolutely shocking the archer.
"Don't you know what these… things DO to people?!"
"The real question is: do you know what I did to her?"
Shaela laughs, and the sudden movement startles the archer into firing. Grekas suddenly dives in front of the arrow and blocks it with a 'Shield'. The wizard tells the man, Tobin, to let them be. Despite his protests, Tobin back down. Grekas apologizes to the party—"Tobin has a nasty history with the drow. In fact, so do I, but… I know better than to judge a book by its cover. I did grow up in a library after all."
Meanwhile, Jimothy finds Cripple Talth in the makeshift hospital set up in the beer tent. The tiefling woman, who appears to be a priestess of Sehanine, is very confused about the pain that the monk is experiencing. Talth waves her away so she can deal with more injured carnival-goers, saying only that such a burden is the duty of every servant of Ilmater. Jimothy and Talth both remark that they are glad to see the other alive. The paladin casts 'Martyrdom of Ilmater' to take the pain the monk is experiencing onto himself, and is knocked over by the sheer agony of it all. He remains conscious and learns that Talth is actually in the area looking for an old Ilmatari monastery. Jimothy volunteers to accompany the monk.
He fills the rest of the party in, and the first thing they ask is the one thing he didn't: about payment. Grekas says that he's actually encountered followers of Ilmater before, and if you want them to part with a bit of coin, just point out that it would be keeping with their beliefs to "suffer" such a loss. Jancer says "that's actually really clever", and Grekas smiles, "Heh. I thought so." Jimothy glares at the elf.
Brublind approaches the ettercap, Brap, who is busy making a memorial doily in honor of Scaly from her own silk, and thanks her for creating that web during the battle—it did a lot to help. In fact, it probably saved the party's lives. Brap appreciates these kind words, and offers to fix up all of their clothing as her own thank you for their service to the carnival.
Nearby, Elspeth is trying to comfort the little girl, Annie, who she protected during the fight. Jancer comes grooving over and asks Annie if she's okay, cheering her up with his dance moves. He tells Elspeth that he bets they'd cheer her up even more if she joined in, and the dwarf, while absolutely shaking, turns those jitters into jive, blowing even Jancer away (nat 20!). The little girl smiles and laughs through her tears. Jancer asks what she was doing at the carnival alone anyway, and Annie admits that she snuck out—Jancer pinky promises not to tell on her (while crossing his fingers behind his back), and learns that the girl's mother actually used to dance. He asks if the reason she doesn't do it anymore is because she has "guilty feet that got no rhythm."
As the night winds down, Grekas invites the party to come up to the keep tomorrow so that they can chat. He asks the gnome who accompanied him, Jaraltanth Kalparanius, if he can do anything to fix up the party's flying ship, and the inventor gives him a wide smile and nods excitedly, "Ohhh, yes, yes, yes~!"
While Jancer, Brublind, and Jimothy go back to the ship, Nylah, Rorik, Shaela, Elspeth, and the little girl accompany Grekas up to his tower. The wizard gets increasingly flustered as Nylah begins flirting with him. Sexy saxophone plays in the distance.
Everyone is surprised when they arrive to find the wizard's tower to be little more than a study cluttered with papers and dominated by a large telescope, with a tiny closet attached.
Rorik asks about the telescope, and learns that it was actually installed by the tower's previous occupant. Grekas tells Rorik that he can take a look if he'd like. Rorik finds himself looking up at a field of stars unlike any night sky that he's seen with his naked eyes. He focuses on an emerald star known as Gibbeth. Rorik takes his eye from the telescope to see that there is now light pouring out from beneath the closet door, Grekas smiles and motions for him to open it. Beyond is a fully-stocked menagerie!
Grekas tells him that there's actually a room that he thinks Rorik will like even better, and moves the telescope to focus on Caiphon. He opens the door again to reveal a library with bookshelves that tower to the ceiling. A walking suit of armor with a marble bust tucked into the neck introduces itself as Jonson, the librarian. Rorik runs off to begin reading while Grekas begins teaching Nylah how to train her dragon.
She asks Grekas how he got his dragon into a statue, but the wizard explains that he actually found him like that. After a successful training session, Nylah begins loving on Algernon, and the tiefling swears she hears him purr, "Nice…"
Grekas admits that his training may be lacking, as his dragon doesn't need to eat or anything. Since Nylah has a metallic dragon however, he might know someone who could be of a lot of help—if she was willing to make the trip. He has a good friend named Saeleara Sulin, and she knows a thing or two about dragons. Nylah gives him a sly smile,
"Let me guess, you fucked her."
"Uhhh… umm, well, there was certainly magic between us. I took her out to dinner, she gave me a chainmail shirt…"
"Oh, is that what elves use as protection?"
Grekas quickly wishes Nylah good night and disappears into his room.
Shaela appears a moment later and convinces Nylah that they should sneak into Grekas's bedroom, as the telescope is still set to it. They find the wizard meditating in nothing but his underwear on a big bed. His eyes pop open from his elvish reverie and he stares at them. He summons 'Bigby's Hand' and tries to push them back out the door, but the two women easily sidestep it. He "Uhhhh"s, unsure what to do now. Nylah says that they don't want to insult their host and should strip down into their underwear to adhere with what are clearly local customs. Shaela looks at the golden bikini she's wearing and rips the top off ("Woah, be careful—I said take it off, not tear it off—that's actual gold!"). Grekas "Uhhhh"s even louder, and the two intruders blow him kisses as they turn to leave. Nylah sees Shaela grab something and stuff it into her bikini bottoms as they do.
Back on the boat, Jimothy takes his chance and plops down on the captain's bed (the only bed actually big enough for him) while Nylah isn't there to claim it. The paladin doesn't even bother taking off his armor. The Prince of Tindomeel walks in, clearly expecting that he would finally be able to sleep here, but Jimothy is having none of that. The dejected Prince leaves.
In the necromancer's quarters, Jancer animates the skeleton in the corner and makes it start dancing. It bounces to-and-fro on the string it's hanging from the ceiling by. The half-elf goes to sleep to its spooky scary skeletones.
As she begins to drift off to sleep, Nylah hears Elspeth get up and follows her out onto the roof. She finds the dwarf sobbing. The tiefling sneaks up behind the dwarf, sits, and wraps her arms around her. Elspeth, though resistant at first, eventually begins pouring her heart out—explaining that she's felt like a failure ever since Roland and Krog were killed four days ago, a feeling only further cemented after Jancer and Brublind were slain by that rampaging troll and she thanks Nylah for reviving them when she was helpless to even heal her companions. She hasn't really had time to process it until now… and it hurts. Nylah holds her close, and the dwarf cries herself to sleep in the bard's embrace. Nylah uses her Piwafwi as a blanket as they doze off under the stars.
Rorik, realizing that he should probably go to sleep after several hours spent reading, finds himself staring into a silvery void as he opens the door out of the library. Without hesitation, he steps out into space. He quickly discerns that the library (and all the other "rooms" in Grekas's tower) is a demiplane, shaped from the undifferentiated dream-stuff of the Astral Plane. Rorik is entranced by the beauty of this place. He spots a spire in the distance, topped by a floating ring, and propels himself towards in with an 'Eldritch Blast'.
As he drifts, he runs into an astral projection of Jimothy Jones, and the two armwrestle. Rorik wins, best two out of three, but Jimothy is certain that the eldritch knight only won because their battle was in the mind—definitely Rorik's arena and not his own.
Jancer wakes the goliath up the next day and asks him if he'd like a hook horror. Jimothy says it wouldn't be the same, even if he were to find a new one, but when Jancer explains that he doesn't mean that, but rather, bringing back the original, the goliath's interest is piqued. Jancer casts 'Animate Dead' on the broken creature still laying on deck, and it springs back up and begins dancing. Jimothy is disturbed, and tries to put it out of its misery, but to no avail. Jancer yells, "RUN, HOOK HORROR, RUN!", and the creature leaps from the ship, dance-running into town, leaving behind a trail of gore as bits of its body fall off.
Jancer notices Jaraltanth nearby, working on a blueprint of the ship that he seems to have spent all night sketching. The excitable little gnome discusses possible improvements with the party, and gets several suggestions:
- A shrine to Ilmater, complete with pain and pain accessories
- A library for Rorik
- A refrigerated morgue that Jancer can store bodies in (like those of Roland and Krog, which have been laying out for several days now, even if still affected by 'Gentle Repose')
- Another big bedroom like the captain's
- A dance floor on the main deck and another one below deck
- An air-powered "escape system", attached to the rear of the ship, which would allow the party to "jump" on a burst of wind should the situation require it. Jaraltanth's grin grows two sizes at this, and he wonders aloud where Jancer could have gotten such a spectacular idea. The necrodancer admits it "just came to me last night in one piece."
- Indoor plumbing
As workers from Brentil Keep begin arriving, Jancer and Jimothy notice someone spying on them. They approach the hooded figure and he begins asking them about the githyanki ship, the silver sword at Jancer's hip, and the fate of their original owners. They tell him that they're dead and both items now belong to the party. The hooded figure thanks them for dealing with the githyanki—"my people have been vigilant since we saw that vessel so close to our home, it will comfort them to know that there is nothing to fear." They ask who he is, and the man pulls back his hood to reveal features not unlike those of a githyanki. He introduces himself as Dal'zin, one of the githzerai, and bids them know that they have his people's gratitude before departing.
Nylah arrives back at the ship around this time, and she accompanies Brublind to the carnival to commission a sunhat/umbrella for Sporp that will allow him to walk in the daylight without suffering from sun sickness. They throw a sheet over Sporp and cut eye-holes in it so the myconid can accompany them there, and Jimothy calls him "Casporp the Friendly Ghost". Brap is happy to make it for them, and Whiskers provides the 'Darkness' enchantment (though he complains that it would've been easier if his apprentice hadn't run off). Brap also gives Nylah something that she never had the chance to before the tiefling left: the brooch of her old drow mentor, "The Amazing Jumping Spider"—Janos Aleval. The bard pins it to her chesticles.
Sporp is happy to be able to go out and see the sights of the surface, and the party lets him ride his elephant, "Mr. Meat Mountain", into town with them—on the condition that he tell everybody his mount's name.
Grekas meets the party beside a statue of Cora Hale, the keep's current ruler, standing triumphantly atop the body of the black dragon, Bochaladaxx. They head inside for a lavish breakfast, where Jancer and the high elf magically converse with one another from opposite ends of the table. Cora asks the party what they call themselves, but they all just look at each other without a real answer. The shifter chuckles and says, "Well, whoever you are, we're glad you're here!" Grekas tells them not to feel bad, and whispers the story of how his own adventuring party adopted its dumb name: 'The Sixteen Rapiers and A Small Intestine'.
Grekas asks Jancer how exactly he ended up becoming a dancing necromancer, and the half-elf explains that he started out like any other necromancer—just looking for immortality, but one day discovered the pulse of life itself—the Beat that connects all things. His life was never the same.
Meanwhile, Rorik reaches the foot of the Spire. He looks around for a door, but only finds small camps set up around the base of the mountain. The eldritch knight sends Enrico up towards the ring high above, but the Spire seems to stretch forever as the raven flies upward. Rorik decides to approach some of the natives—creatures with metallic skin and reflective eyes who call themselves 'Rilmani'. They wonder if Rorik is from Mechanus because of his last name, but he tells them that he's actually from the mortal world, and is looking for a way up to the ring. The rilmani tell him that the only way into the City of Doors is through a door, and happily show him one that they use.
As he steps through the doorway, Rorik appears in the middle of a bustling marketplace, his senses assaulted by exotic sights and sounds the likes of which he's never experienced before.
This is Sigil, the city at the center of the multiverse.
He ducks into a permanent structure amid the sea of stalls, passing beneath a black lightning bolt-shaped sign over the entrance.
Inside, Rorik finds that the walls are hung with intricately-tattooed human skin. A goat-like humanoid emerges from a bead curtain, symbols appearing above its head. Rorik quickly intuits that this must be the manner in which this being communicates, and begins interpreting its messages and replying with his own hand-drawn pictures. The creature, Fell, is thoroughly amused and touched by the effort that the eldritch knight puts into the conversation. He explains that he is a tattoo artist, "coloring flesh and bone with life."
Back at Brentil Keep, Grekas suddenly realizes that Rorik has been locked in the library all night. He and Jancer rush up there, only to find the human gone. Grekas asks Jonson where he's gone off to, and the librarian points towards the door. Grekas simply says, "Ah." He tells Jancer that his companion might be lost in the Astral Plane, and the necrodancer says that he himself was there not long ago—telling the wizard about the god-isle he encountered after dying. The wizard instantly recognizes the description as fitting that of Orcus, Demon Prince of Undeath!
Jancer has a moment, as any necromancer would after coming face-to-face with such a being. Grekas takes him into his tower's scrying room, and they pinpoint Rorik's current location as he steps back out into the Great Bazaar of Sigil.
The eldritch knight takes note of everything he sees, but this draws the attention of some Harmonium officers, who question such "suspicious activity". When they learn that he is new to the city, the guards take him to the City Barracks, where he is interviewed and processed by a priestess of Torm, who suggests that he hire a tout to show him around the city, and gives him several recommendations based on his answers: The City Courts, The Hall of Records, and The Civic Festhall. She also warns him to stay clear of The Hive. Rorik makes a note in his journal: "Go to The Hive."
Grekas recognizes where Rorik is, and tells Jancer that he should be alright for the time being, as long as he doesn't cause any trouble. If the party wants to go and fetch him, they should be able to reach him using their githyanki ship, although Jaraltanth's work could take some time. Regardless, he informs Jancer that he knows of three portals they could use to reach the Planes: the one in his tower; one in the sky over the island of Procellas; and one in the mountains, which leads to the World Tree, Yggdrasil.With that, Jancer thanks Grekas. Before he leaves however, the necrodancer turns around and asks,
"You wanna help summon a demon?"
The high elf isn't sure how to respond to that question, but he follows Jancer back to the ship out of curiosity. The necrodancer lets Jaraltanth know that they'll be performing a demonic ritual downstairs, "just FYI", so if he needs them, that's where he'll find them.
Before going to do that however, Jancer takes one of the birds in the captain's cabin (which Grekas identifies as 'astral streakers'—a species that migrates between planes), and sends it off with a message meant for Rorik.
They enter the room with the pentagram in it and Jancer begins reading from the tome. The owlbear ragdoll in the center of the circle begins to undulate as he speaks, and a cascade of tar materializes out of thin air above it, pouring down into the plush owlbear's open beak. Gangly, black limbs burst out of the doll as the summoned gehreleth takes shape before them. Jancer notices that, attached to the limbs like leeches, are six human heads with leathery wings instead of ears.
As he moves to take a closer look at them, one suddenly detaches and lets out a horrible shriek as it swoops out of the ritual circle to attack!