Jimothy nods and says, "You got it, granny Baba," as he draws Corpsebane. He brandishes the mace, and two of the insectoid mezzoloths flee in abject terror at the sight of the blazing holy symbol of Ilmater upon its face! One of them leaps out of the front door of the hut.
Jancer unzips his Leomund's Secret Chest fannypack and his backup dancers leap forth, ready to attack! The ultroloth laughs and slices its sword in the air over its head, rending open a fiery rift in the fabric of the planes. The necrodancer hears the fiend say, "Interlopers, taste the burning hatred of Gehenna!" as volcanic chunks of stone fall into the inside of the hut.
Vladimir leaps into the stove and disappears, while Jancer's dancers are instantly destroyed and the half-elf himself is knocked unconscious by the hail of brimstone. One of the frightened mezzoloths shakes off its fear at the sight of their leader's show of force, and triumphantly stabs its trident into the downed Pleedleplop. Jimothy runs in to protect his fishy friend, but the chitinous plates of the creature resist even Corpsebane's assault. A cloud of noxious gas seeps from the fiend's body in response, poisoning Jim-jam.
Meanwhile, Rorik engages the ultroloth, who mocks his swordsmanship. Wilhelmina lifts her veil and looks at the fiend, but it shakes off her gaze. Meanwhile, the other mezzoloth moves to attack the unconscious, but is hit with a volley of juggling balls thrown by Chester Jesterelli, who says,
Brublind feeds Pleedleplop and Breezy some 'Goodberries', and while it alleviates the magical pain coursing through them, the infernal runes still blaze bright on their bodies. Jimothy slays the mezzoloth with Wilhelmina's help, and says a prayer to Ilmater to remove the curse on his companions. They stop convulsing and go limp.
The ultroloth is doing a good job of parrying Rorik, who is still getting used to his new macuahuitl of sharpness, but Jimothy charges in and shoulder slams the fiend into the stove! The ultroloth disappears— transported to the candy room!
Chester finishes off the mezzoloth he is fighting with another volley of balls. The entire party is impressed. They get Jancer back up, and the half-elf is upset to see the remains of his backup dancers fizzling on the ground. Pleedleplop picks up the trident used to stab him and says, "Ooh~ NEAT!" and keeps it. Wilhelmina does the same with the other mezzoloth's pike. Rorik finds Breezy clutching the Rod of Seven Parts piece in a death grip, electricity coursing across her skin from her contact with Euroclydon—he takes it from her. Then, suddenly, the ultroloth rises from the soup cauldron in the middle of the chamber—he used Vladimir's intestines to return!
Wilhelmina takes one look at the ultroloth and it begins turning to stone. Jimothy swings his mace with the divine power of Ilmater and the fiend explodes into dust, which sinks into the stew. Jimothy gets a bowl and drinks some. He almost feels fear well up in his chest, but he's a paladin, so nix that. Then he dumps the nesting doll into the soup. There is a flash of light, and a moment later, a tall, naked old woman with teeth and claws like shards of iron emerges from the mixture—BABA YAGA.
Baba Yaga says that she is happy to see Jimothy again, although everyone is confused by this, "You've met Baba Yaga before?" Even Jimothy does not remember. The hag explains that, after the giant empire fell, a group of them came to her to ask what their futures held in the wake of such destruction. It was then that she traced the lines of fate across their skins, that they might know from the day they were born what lay in store. She removes Jimothy's helmet and traces what remains of his own fate amid the tapestry of scars. The paladin asks if it was fated for the drow to steal his future from him like they did, but the hag explains that she can't account for everything.
"But I remember when you were brought to me as babe, and I remember still the lines I traced upon your skin, my mishka. I can tell you what fate lay in store for you even now, if you so wish, although… from what I have seen, you live up to it whether you know it or not."
Jimothy says that he trusts in Ilmater and it is not for him to know his destiny. There is one thing that the paladin does ask of the witch however, "Do you have any more candy?"
Baba Yaga cackles at this and produces a bowl of hard candies, telling her "little mishka" to take as much as he likes. Wilhelmina comes over sneakily and takes a few pieces for her collection as well. Rorik tries to tell her its actually maggots, but she eats some before he has the chance.
Rorik steps forward and tells the hag that they came here because they need to find the phylactery of Kostchtchie. Baba Yaga is impressed that they were brave enough to seek her out of their own volition, and joins in as the party begins bullying the Demon Lord of Wrath. She explains however, that they are not the first to come seeking it, as the woman who trapped her in the nesting doll sought the very same object.
"Yes, we've seen her before… Who is she?"
"Well, deary, she went by another name in another life, but now the only name she knows is 'Iggwilv'. She has grown even more powerful than I at this point, but I still remember her as the girl of ten winters who I first taught to summon demons. It makes your old granny's heart proud…"
Both Rorik's and Jancer's ears perk up at the name "Iggwilv"—they know that name. Iggwilv was a witch-queen who built an empire using an army of thralls bound to her service. It is said that she even bound the demon lords Fraz-Urb'luu and Graz'zt, and learned dark secrets from them that she immortalized in a profane text known as the Demonomicon of Iggwilv. She disappeared centuries ago, supposedly dragged down into the depths of the Abyss after Graz'zt was freed from her magics.
Baba Yaga tells them that Kostchtchie's phylactery sits buried under an ancient oak tree on the island of Buyan, which lies between the four winds.
"And where is that?"
"Oh, don't you worry about that, deary. Take my pretty little horses, they know the way."
"Ah yes, pretty little horses, just like that My Little Centaur show Rorik likes."
Baba Yaga gives Jimothy a kiss on the helmet as the party laugh their way back to the stables, and hop onto the three horses within—Jimothy and Pleedleplop on the red one; Jancer and Chester on the white one; and Rorik, Wilhelmina, and Breezy (who the medusa tries to push off) on the black one. Brublind casts 'Fly' on himself and follows after them as they disembark into the Astral Plane.
The horses thunder between the god-isles that float in that silvery void, making a bee-line for an enormous nebula in the distance. Rorik points Sigil out to Breezy, and tells her that he has been there, to "the city at the center of the multiverse", before; the sorceress is impressed. While Jimothy challenges Rorik to an Astral arm-wrestling rematch (which he wins!), Jancer and Brublind keep an eye out for the corpse of Orcus, who they saw when they died.
Eventually, they enter the nebula, barely avoiding strokes of lightning and gales that threaten to blow them away from their goal, but Euroclydon helps protect them. Before long, they are riding over a sea of brilliant cerulean towards an island of chalky, white cliffs, its top surmounted by a castle. Hanging over the island in an otherwise clear sky is a dark cloud, out of which pours an oily black rain.
As soon as they enter the rain, they realize that there is something very wrong. Everyone quickly acts to protect themselves from its effects, but it is too late for poor Brublind. As the foul fluid falls upon his froggy flesh, his mind fogs as he begins to forget fragments of his life. Jancer points out that it is similar to the infamous "black ice" they had back in Zakkencrag, but far more potent.
The party lands in a large courtyard at the center of the castle. The place looks like it was turned over—the ancient walls have been shattered, trees have been uprooted, and the bodies of half a dozen giants lie broken on the ground, some of them missing chunks that look as if they were simply… erased. They make their way to the large tree at the citadel's heart, under which is a pit, inside of which is a chest. Inside the chest, there is a boar-sized rabbit, its neck twisted; coming out of the rabbit's mouth is a duck, which has had its belly cut from bill to tail, as if something was ripped out of it.
Suddenly, they hear a scream as a huge spear is thrust through Pleedleplop by one of the giants, who still lives, and is incredibly angry. He says in Giant,
"You… you DARE come here, cursed one?! Was the dishonor your demon dogs brought upon us not enough?! Perhaps Annam will forgive our failure if I kill you at least…"
The party step in and stop the giant, although it is quite clear he is too wounded to pose a real threat and collapses back to the ground as he tries to stand. Jimothy presses his hands onto the giant's flesh and says, "YOU. ARE. HEALED!"
The giant is confused, but the party explains that they aren't affiliated with those who attacked him and his people, and Pleedleplop—he's a good boy. Rorik does reveal, however, his translation of the giant tablet that they recovered from the seafloor, explaining that, as he understands it, the kuo-toa summoned Demogorgon during their war with the giants, causing their enemies to tear themselves apart, just like the kuo-toa did back at Slooblidoop. Pleedleplop is dumbstruck, as he has never heard anything like this before now. BUT, that doesn't excuse the atrocities committed by the giants against the kuo-toa either, as they sought to bring about an absolute genocide of their race, forcing the fishfolk into the Underdark. Faced with this knowledge, the giant and Pleedle give each other begruding nods of truce.
The giant identifies himself as, and tells the party that Iggwilv came to the island aboard a demonic vessel that seemed to breath utter annihilation down upon its defenders. The fiends flew a black-and-white striped flag emblazoned with a six-fingered black hand, which the more learned members of the party (save for the partially-amnesiac Brublind, who is busy trying to identify an interesting bird using his pocket bestiary) quickly recognize as the symbol of the Dark Prince—Graz'zt.
Jancer and Brublind recall that this was the demon lord who Bingle Bogglethorp originally stole the piece of the Rod of Seven Parts that the party found in Zakkencrag from, ages ago—the very reason that he first created the xvarts.
It was they who took Kostchtchie's phylactery from Buyan, and spirited it away to Graz'zt's palace deep within the Abyss.
The giant bids the party follow him into a large throne room, where the seat of Annam All-Father itself stands, empty. Jimothy races Rorik to the throne, but the giant stops the goliath from taking a seat, as if one who has not been recognized as King of the Giants sits upon it, they shall suffer a fate worse than death! Jimothy says that he shall become double-king ( Hurricane King and Giant King) then. The giant scoffs at this, and asks the paladin if he realizes how many have said such words— Annam's three daughters, and Kostchtchie too, have all sought to be crowned for centuries now, but none have emerged the victor.
The giant shows them the Thunderforge—a place where the giants have forged some of their most legendary artifacts, including "the instrument of our revenge against the sea that swallowed our homeland": WAVE, TRIDENT OF THE DEEP! When he hears that the trident was being used by a kuo-toa priestess, he is outraged, and says that even his work at the forge has been disgraced. Jancer, Jimothy, and Rorik all have suggestions for him to reclaim his honor—to forge them instruments capable of exacting revenge against those who slaughtered his kin.
- Jancer requests a single mithril glove.
- Jimothy requests a blade that burns with the light of Ilmater, not unlike Corpsebane.
- Rorik requests a sword imbued with acid—the mortal foe of demons.
If they are willing to bring him what he needs to create such items, he shall do as they ask with gusto! He asks that they first recover a statue stolen along with the phylactery by the fiends who attacked Buyan however—one depicting Annam himself.
As the party prepare to depart, they are confronted by a hooded ferryman, who poles their way down the falling black rain as if it were a river. The figure is identified in an instant by Jimothy as CHARON, which Brublind says is a "dumb name" (the ferryman replies by gloating over the transmuter's brush with the river's memory-sapping waters). Charon demands to know who has so defiled "their precious Styx", and when the party reveals the culprits, Charon is pissed. The party pay some platinum should they ever find themselves in need of the ferryman's services (watching as their coins are absorbed into the being's form, which itself appears to be made up of hundreds of coins!). Charon bows their head and departs, the rift in the sky sealing behind the skiff.
The party decide to head to the extraplanar metropolis of Sigil to plan their next moves…
Rorik shows them the portal he used last time, and they appear in the city's bustling Market Ward.
Rorik, Breezy, and Wilhelmina head into Fell's tattoo parlor, which has far more people in it than it did the last time the eldritch knight visited. He is approached by a drow woman in a colorful dress with a holy symbol of Lolth, who has a smile that is unlike any Rorik's seen before on one of her kind, in that, it reaches her eyes! She introduces herself as Felynnida Kron'tis, "But my friends call me 'Fel', that's with ONE L, not two like Fell." She explains that they're all here for one of the Fallen Dabus's sermons. Rorik decides to stay, and "listens" to Fell's tale of the dead god of portals, Aoskar, unjustly cast down centuries ago by the mysterious Lady of Pain who rules Sigil.
After the story, he asks Fell if he can examine Breezy's tattoos, as he saw them magially shift before, from a map to Whorlstone Island, to a map pointing them to the undersea ruins where they encountered Demogorgon. The dabus isn't sure of their origin, but notes that there is something about them that reminds him of the work of genies, and says that they are like "rivers that flow across her skin". Rorik suddenly feels an itch and begins scratching, and he keeps scratching and scratching and scratching, seemingly unable to stop—until eventually, his yuan-ti skin sloughs from his body and underneath is a shiny, new, completely human Rorik! In celebration and as a thank you to Fell, he gets a sword tattooed on his back (Breezy gets a small sword on her own back to match). Meanwhile, Wilhelmina grabs Rorik's snake skin and shoves it into her bag for later.
Jimothy is approached by a modron with a symbol on its head like that on those of the slaad they encountered on Yggdrasil. It asks for directions, and the paladin hires a guide (a very shady-looking fellow) for it, as he isn't familiar with the city himself. The modron thanks him, trying to pay him for his services, but the paladin refuses, and tells the little guy to keep his coin. Wandering around a bit more, Jimothy spots an angel heading into an impressive building that appears to be some sort of gymnasium and follows him, amazed at finally seeing a celestial firsthand.
He follows the angel to a spa within the gymnasium, and pays to get in, interrupting a meeting between the angel, Koe, and a creature the paladin recognizes as an ogre mage, who the angel calls "Estavan". Jimothy admits his awe at the angel and asks if he can wrestle him. Koe agrees, much to Estavan's annoyance, the ogre mage insisting that they have "business to discuss", and Koe saying, "business can wait."
Jimothy Jones and Koe square off in the Gymnasium, and after a grueling match, Jimmy actually pins the angel and defeats him! Koe is thoroughly impressed by the Ilmatari's strength, and says that he will have to remember his name, as he is clearly destined for great things. For now though, he must return to Estavan before his business associate gets "too steamed".
While wandering the bazaar with Brublind, Jancer is pooped on by an ostrich magically flying overhead, dropping handbills from its feathers advertising a "comfortable and discreet tavern in the Lower Ward" known (perhaps unsurprisingly) as The Flying Ostrich. The necrodancer cleans his jacket and carries on, but it isn't long before something else crazy happens…
People begin rushing past the duo, away from a hairless goat-centaur in stained purple finery who is breathing fire every time he opens his mouth. Jancer tosses him a bottle of Dancing Monkey Juice, and the bariaur downs it. He thanks the half-elf and nervously asks him if he has any more of that delightful drink as he fidgets and scratches at his neck. He introduces himself as Wooly Cupgrass, an alchemist and connoisseur of fine beverages. Just then, a squad of Harmonium guards appear, ready to take Wooly for 'disorderly conduct', but Jancer convinces them to let him off. In exchange, the necrodancer asks for some discounted potions from the alchemist. Wooly agrees on the condition that he also throw in some more dancing juice.
He also asks Wooly to take a look at Brublind, and while the bariaur doesn't have any potions capable of restoring the transmuter's mind, he confirms that these are the effects of the River Styx—"In diluted form, if I had to guess, or else he'd be worse off than he already is. I-I once had a sip or two of the real stuff myself, and I'm still trying to get the taste out of my mouth. Eugh…! A good 'Restoration' spell should do the trick."
While they are in Wooly's lab, another customer comes in as well, a dark-skinned elf with stunning green eyes who buys some potions from the bariaur before heading back out. Her gaze lingers on Jancer just a bit longer than normal.
Reconvening, the party decide to head to a fancy place called the Fortune's Wheel, where they heard that they can find information that might be able to help them in their next wild endeavor:
BREAKING INTO THE ARGENT PALACE OF GRAZ'ZT.