After several days of downtime, Atrox is approached by Cromlich while passing through the Armory. He is not interested in what she is doing at the moment, only that she serve as his tool in a matter of importance to the Doomguard cause. The foreman explains that Factol Pentar has ordered that their faction double their efforts in preparation for the coming Modron Procession, and that Narthel Excelwell, a contractor hired to do work for them, has fallen behind on their agreed to schedule. Cromlich is enraged at the very thought of it, and orders Atrox to travel to the plane of Bytopia and see to it that Narthel keep to his contract, or that matters between them are ended… permanently.
To this end, the party is sent to the Planar Trade Consortium, with a note for a Mr. Estavan. Steelix informs his superiors of this job before they go, and learns that Narthel Excelwell has actually been helping the Harmonium forces stationed on Bytopia as well; Tonat Shar endorses his going, and tells the genasi to keep an eye out for any Doomguard shenanigans. Cornelius is glad that they’ll be able to get away from the city for a while, which Reyes finds odd for someone like him. The rogue is happy to point out that, despite not acting much like one, he is still a halfling. Besides, Tradegate has nearly as much gold flowing through it as Sigil.
They enter the modest-looking office building in the Clerk’s Ward, and are welcomed in by Estavan himself. The oni is all too happy to see the party, and sets them up on a caravan headed to the Bytopian gate-town of Tradegate in the morning. He bids them farewell by saying, “And so a debt is paid, and another debt made.”
They head through a portal from the Market Ward the next day, on the caravan of Yannick Wex, and appear in the silvery void of the Astral Plane. Though they were hired as caravan guards, the trip seems almost instantaneous, and they arrive at Tradegate mere moments after departing from Sigil. Wex insists that the party bunk down with the rest of the caravan in Tradegate however. As sleep takes them that night, they open their eyes to find themselves with the caravan back on the Astral Plane.
As the tattoo-covered wizard, Tillmanter, explains, time flows strangely on the Astral, and though the physical trip through the plane seems quick and painless at the time, the true journey is a thing of the mind—taking place when the traveler next falls asleep.
Wex interjects that he didn’t let them on board his caravan so that they could ask questions like a bunch of clueless Primes, and orders Tillmanter to get the wagons moving.
Atrox takes the reins on the party’s own wagon, with Black Bart guarding the rear. Cornelius sits on the back of the wagon where Tillmanter is, while Steelix takes up position just behind where Wex is, at the head of the column. Reyes gets on board the third wagon, beside a halfling who introduces himself as Jiermo, “planeo-archaeologist”. Reyes identifies as “The Shadowknave”.
The caravan master notices Steelix behind him, and tells him to back off. The genasi is confused at his hostility, and Wex tells him that he doesn’t trust the Harmonium, explaining that he only let Steelix on his caravan because the order came from Estavan himself. Steelix laughs and asks Wex what he’s smuggling, a question that the man takes obvious offense to, going off about how “the Harmonium don’t make the laws on the Astral”, and how “a man’s free to think and carry whatever he’d like”. Steelix laughs again, patting Wex on the back and telling the caravaneer that he’s just screwing with him—it’s not like he’s on duty at the moment. Wex’s face turns red, and he storms off, muttering curses under his breath.
Atrox starts singing a travel song, and Steelix joins in. Cornelius points out to them that the only traveling this song makes him want to do is “travel away from you.”
Meanwhile, Reyes is intrigued by Jiermo’s occupation, and asks him about his most recent expedition. The halfling is more than happy to tell the archer all about his trip to the endless battlefields of Acheron, which Reyes learns is in a greater state of upheaval than usual due to the death of a certain god. Jiermo claims to have scoured the scrapheaps there for days, barely avoiding patrols of savage orcs, before finally coming across the artifact he sought—a device said to be capable of turning an enemy army’s weapons against them, which he notes is in the chest beside them. Reyes asks him if its effects are contained in the box, and Jiermo assures him that it is quite safely secured, smacking the lid reassuringly.
A dwarf approaches Steelix and introduces himself as Tarholt Trabanson, grandson of Traban, a famous Sigilian armorer frequently patronized by the Harmonium, including Factol Sarin himself. He is interested in where the genasi hails from, as he has the look of dwarven ancestry about him, and Steelix explains that he comes from the great holds beneath the mountains of Arcadia. For years, he fought incursions into the underground by drow elves and worse, until eventually being sent out into the greater planes. Tarholt says he has never seen a drow before, as his homeworld of Krynn simply doesn’t have them—though he never saw a genasi before coming to Sigil either. He notes that Planar Trade Consortium types like Yannick Wex should be no bother to someone like him then—“they’re a lot of words and not much else.”
Steelix asks Tarholt why he’s headed to Bytopia, and the dwarf explains that he is looking to see if the Harmonium commander in Tradegate, a half-elf woman named Lemgwaith Aristan, wants a suit of armor commissioned from his grandfather. The dwarf also shows a keen interest in the gem mines there, pointing out that “a man has to be self-sufficient.”
Just then, Reyes spots a plume of black smoke rising from a ridge up ahead, and tells Wex. The caravan master pops open the metal dome on his head and draws a longsword out of it (to which Steelix has only one thing to say: “Motherfucker.”), telling everyone to be on guard.
As the party pass into the village of Knucklebone Crossing, they find that the place has been absolutely decimated. The buildings have been reduced to little more than piles of burnt wood and toppled stone, and the dismembered bodies of humans and bariaur are scattered amid the rubble. Tarholt guesses that the culprits were githyanki pirates, but Atrox is horrified to recognize that the puddles of bubbling green fluid all around are fiendish ichor. Tillmanter confirms her worst fears: the residents fell victim to the ravages of the Blood War.
Meanwhile, Cornelius finds a half-dead devil slowly dissolving into one such puddle, but is driven off by its scraggly beard which snaps at him like serpents. Steelix sees this, and notices the greenish-black glaive it is holding. He quickly reaches in and rips the weapon from the devil’s grasp, its arms liquefying as the fighter pulls away. Tillmanter notices the glaive and tells Steelix that he should be careful with that weapon, as it is a Barbazu Glaive, an infernal weapon possessing a hunger all its own; but, at the same time, if the multiverse did not wish for him to have it, it would not have given him the possibility in the first place.
They return to the caravan, and Wex decides to get the crossing done with as quickly as possible.
The party get a lesson on the mutability of gravity on the Astral Plane from Tarholt, who walks across the void between Knucklebone Crossing and the landmass across the way as if still on solid ground. Black Bart, Reyes, and Steelix hop onto wagons rather than attempt it themselves, with Tillmanter and Wex sending the wagons across through the combined power of their minds. Wex heads across, followed by Cornelius, who deftly crosses the gap on his own; while Tillmanter offers his assistance to Atrox in getting the party’s wagon across. While she calms the mule, his tattoos begin to writhe along his arm, and the wagon hovers to the other side. The tiefling is entranced by this grand showing of magic.
Continuing onward through a canyon, Jiermo laments the senselessness of the Blood War, but Reyes gets his mind off it by asking about where’s he’s headed to with that artifact of his. As it turns out, there’s an establishment known as the Museum of Oblivion in Tradegate, dedicated to preserving the final vestiges of knowledge on the brink of being lost to the sands of time.
Atrox notices Black Bart looking at a colorful flyer, but leaves him to his business. The orc calls to her a moment later and points out shapes moving on the horizon behind them. Atrox can’t seem to make them out, but alerts the rest of the caravan. Then, suddenly, the sound of great, leathery wings fills the air as a grinning devil lands on a rock archway just overhead, staring down at Steelix.
“THERE is that miserable Collaborok’s weapon! That is the lawful property of Archduke Dispater, mortal; and I, Malmoribus, as His most loyal servant, will be confiscating THAT and HALF the supplies on your pitiful, little caravan as recompense. Now hand it over!”
Steelix tells the devil to take it if he can. Malmoribus roars and swoops towards him.
Reyes fires a shot off towards the fiend, but it misses, and Malmoribus slams headlong into Steelix, sending the genasi to the ground. Claws rip at his arm as the devil tries to pry the glaive from him. Meanwhile, the shapes on the horizon come into focus: a horde of lemures is coming up the path behind the caravan.
Atrox, Black Bart, and Tarholt move to engage them, with the sorceress sending a ‘Ray of Frost’ into them. The magic barely seems to slow them however, and the creatures advance forward to overpower her. Black Bart slams his maul into one of the lemures, but its gelatinous flesh merely reforms as it claws at the orc with its gangly limbs. Tarholt bifurcates another with his double-headed axe, recovering just in time to deflect the attack of a third.
Cornelius leaps on Malmoribus, and stabs the devil in the back of the head with his dagger. The fiend bucks backwards, and sends the halfling crashing into the rocky arch as it takes flight. Wex slashes at its feet, but to no avail. In response, Malmoribus turns and sprays the area with a shower of spines. The party’s mule rears back at this, knocking Atrox off the wagon.
Steelix tosses his old halberd towards Black Bart, telling him to “drop and catch”, but the orc is too busy fighting the lemures, and when he does turn, it is only to have the halberd’s blade slice clean through his forearm. He lets out a noise somewhere between a roar and a scream, and the fiend assailing the orc overtakes him. Reyes peppers the lemure with arrows, but it doesn’t even seem to notice them.
Malmoribus tackles Steelix again, thinking that to catch him unawares, but is caught by the genasi’s new glaive as he ducks, lifting the weapon so that its saw-toothed blade can cut through the devil’s wing. The fiend continues onward, now a wing short, and goes spiraling and cursing into the depths of the Astral.
Atrox stands, and unleashes ‘Burning Hands’ upon the remaining lemures, reducing them to bubbling masses. The caravan quickly recoups and continues on to Tradegate, a shell-shocked Black Bart laying in the back of the party’s wagon. Steelix keeps his distance, while Reyes asks Tillmanter if wounds like that affect their physical bodies as well, and the wizard confirms that they do. Cornelius shrugs, noting that if the orc can still fight, then he’ll still be useful to him.
The Astral caravan arrives at Tradegate without any more incidents, and the party return to their waking bodies in Bytopia.