This story begins when four travelers arrive at the entrance of Nurh Taoul, a small port town located in the southern region of Terracune. There, they met a female grung named Fannora and, upon being asked, introduced themselves to the frog-like humanoid. One was a female yuan-ti cleric named Hari; the second was a naga paladin of Lathander called Ezra; the third, a tabaxi rogue going by Rengar; and lastly, a wolf-folk ranger named Valkenhayn.
The four had their own reasons for making their way to the port town, though they shared one thing in common – they had all been called here for a purpose, one that would involve them meeting one another as it would seem. It was at that moment when Fannora informed the four travelers of a group known as "The Blades", who had been seeking new members to aid in their cause. Believing that it would lead them closer to what they must do, they agreed on joining the group and followed the grung into the town.
Inside, they found that Nurh Taoul had evidently seen better days, as the general atmosphere of the town exuded a sense of dreariness and despair. They eventually arrived at a corridor in which there stood three separate doors, each of them having a single rune written on it – specifically, the number "2", each in different languages for each door. As they went to investigate the doors, the five encountered what they initially assumed was a strange rock, but ultimately turned out to be the hardened shell of another traveler who had arrived earlier – a tortle who called himself Koal.
As the rest of the travelers began acquainting themselves with one another, Valkenhayn took a closer look at one of the doors. However, as he did so, he suddenly heard the voice of his tribe's deity, Selûne – the goddess of the moon and the one who had given him the vision of travelling to the town, calling out to him. Against all logic, the wolven ranger felt compelled to step forth, and step forth he did. At that instant, Fannora warned the wolf just a moment too late that he shouldn't just step inside, prompting Hari to try and stop him, ultimately ending in failure as Valkenhayn successfully shook her off of him and stepped inside. The rune on the door then suddenly shifted and now said "1".
The cleric then chased after the ranger, stepping through the same door he did. After she had stepped through, the door suddenly slammed itself shut, with no way for it to be opened. The remaining four then stepped through the other two doors, with Koal being the last to do so, entering the door in the middle. With that, all three doors were now closed shut.
Moments passed when the six found themselves in the middle of what appears to be a large arena – one that was strangely left barren and empty, save for the four large statues situated equidistant from one another in a circular formation and what seemed to be a well at the very center. While the six scanned their unfamiliar surroundings, a low, guttural, booming voice coming from a chamber several feet above them chimed in, "You've certainly kept us waiting, travelers. Welcome to the Blades!"
"You may have heard that we are currently undermanned and in need of extra muscle for the last stretch of our search," the voice continued to echo throughout the arena as the six promptly quickly turned to the direction it had come from. "So, to that end, we must test you and determine where your strength lies – the heart or the mind?"
"You all entered a doorway in twos, I presume? For the remainder of the initiation, you are to defend the one who came through the door with you at all costs. Should one fall, the other shall follow as well, " the voice still continued to speak as the others listened intently. "…and what exactly must you accomplish, you might ask? Well… you are in an arena, are you not? This is a battle to the very end… well, not that kind of end, but you are well aware of what I mean."
With the unknown voice having finished, the five travelers began to examine the arena, expecting that either something behind one of the gates or one of the four statues would attack. However, to their surprise, Fannora was the first to make a move, suddenly rushing towards the tortle with a swift strike! It was then that they realized that they would have to fight one another in pairs, just as the voice had implied. Before long, the battle had begun!
The three-way battle between the pairs – consisting of Valkenhayn and Hari, Koal and Ezra, and Rengar and Fannora – had gone for a short while, during which Fannora was ironically the first to be knocked out due to Koal's surprisingly-bestial strength. Throughout that time, the group learned the hard way that – likely through magical means tied to the doors they had entered – their lives were quite literally bound to one another; if one of them were to get injured, the other would feel a fraction of that pain themselves. Valkenhayn, Hari, and Rengar had already taken a fair beating when, out of nowhere, strange noises began to sound off from within the well until a large ooze climbed out of it, revealing the creature to be a gelatinous cube.
Having immediately caught on as to what exactly was happening, the wolven ranger's instincts flared to life as he howled, "Everyone, focus on the cube right there!" As he did so, he channeled divine magic and cast Spike Growth on the ground, causing it to suddenly sprout spikes and thorns in an effort to hurt the cube as it moved around. After receiving a timely heal from Hari, the rest of the group then focused all their efforts into destroying the gelatinous cube.
It wasn't long until more noises – this time sounding remarkably like beastly growls and screeches – began to sound off from behind one of the gates. With booming laughter, the voice echoed once more, "In the battlefield, no one can be trusted but your comrades. You never know what to expect in the heat of battle."
Just as he had said that, three reptilian creatures suddenly rushed out of the gate! Two of them – a pair of velociraptors – were quite small – only slightly larger than a lizard, except they were bipedal and were shockingly swift in their movements. The other – a tyrannosaurus rex – stood several feet taller, easily towering both the smaller reptilians and especially the group.
Well aware that they would likely be overrun if they didn't act quick, Valkenhayn then pulled another arrow and took aim with his bow. Moments before he let the arrow fly, he howled, "By Selûne's grace!" The arrow was then let loose and made its mark as it then evidently struck the gelatinous cube's weak point, causing it to suddenly burst into chunks of ooze, some of which unwittingly ended up splashing onto the yuan-ti cleric as she had stood too close to the cube when the arrow made its mark.
Soon after, the velociraptors were quickly dealt with, leaving only the larger beast as their opponent. While everyone attempted to whittle down the creature as best as they could with their weapons and abilities, Koal's bestial strength and flame-shooting brass knuckles allowed him to utterly destroy the tyrannosaurus rex with only a few mighty blows!
As the tension of their ordeal began to settle, the five soon saw another figure make its entrance through the same gate the reptilian creatures had. This new figure was a fairly tall brass dragonborn, clad in armor from head to toe and carrying a large, double-headed axe. "So, it would seem that you have accomplished the initiation with greater ease than I had anticipated," the dragonborn spoke, revealing himself to have been the one speaking to them when they had arrived at the arena. "You have certainly done well. Henceforth, you are now officially members of The Blades! Now, we have much to discuss. If you'd be so kind as to follow me."
The five were then led into another room within the arena grounds, wherein they were allowed to recuperate and learned that Fannora had been retrieved after having gotten herself knocked out. After having a well-earned meal and making preparations – during which they meet a quiet yuan-ti named Ysilra – another member of The Blades who would be joining them on their mission, the five – now reunited with a recovered Fannora – met with the red dragonborn, who introduces himself as General Thiasce, and learned from him the story behind The Blades' search.
"Power; many seek it, but only those who are brave enough find it," Thiasce began. "Travelers, barkeeps, hermits from all corners tell a terrifying story of three rulers; brothers. Irralis, Jiilral, Fogahral – the Axis Powers. Mighty men of dragon descent. Born from nothing, they clawed, bit, burned, killed their way through to gain their power… but clearly, that was not enough; they wanted more."
The six maintained their silence, listening with full intent as the dragonborn continued, "To that end, they spent the next several years researching and developing new ways to gain more power. Eventually, their answer came in the form of binding their souls to artifacts, thus making them immortal. However, in doing so, they unwittingly found a way to take the souls of the people they kill and take their power by consuming their hearts."
"This power made them virtually invincible; nigh unstoppable in their relentless murder sprees that made even kings tremble at the sound of their name," Thiasce continued further, as the six kept listening, shock evident some of their faces. "Tens, hundreds, thousands had their lives- no… their souls taken. Their power was so great, the only beings capable of killing them… were one another. However, they eventually vanished with not even a shadow of a trace."
"What happened to them? Where did they go?" one of them asked.
"No one knows," Thiasce responded curtly. "But many speculate that they killed each other; some say that they sought to kill the gods but, following their defeat, met their demise. Others say that their souls were taken from them by the very same souls of all the people they had consumed in their conquest. Either way, the artifacts they had bound their souls to were lost; hidden away, never to be found."
After learning of the story of the three brothers, they were then informed that The Blades were successful in securing two of the three artifacts – Matalotok, the Hammer of the Frost Giants wielded by Jiilral, and the Armor of Invulnerability, donned by Fogahral. On the other hand, their efforts in securing the last of the three artifacts – the Talisman of Ultimate Evil worn by Irralis – have gone awry due to the Temple of Vonun Drog, an underground temple dedicated to the Hidden Lord, Gargauth, and the current location of the talisman, constantly shifting their path seemingly on its own, in addition to the monsters that lie beneath. Thus, they have never made it far in their excursions until now.
Thiasce then offered one final chance for the party to turn back, should they find such a venture too dangerous for them. As expected, none of them took that chance, acknowledging that they had arrived at the town for a purpose and have decided that helping The Blades will fulfill it. With no further objections, everyone headed into the underground caverns below and eventually found a large door, the exact spot where The Blades had reached furthest prior to the party's arrival.
With no threats present, Thiasce then recited a draconic incantation, causing the door to open in front of them. Heading further down the Temple of Vonun Drog, their real adventure had finally begun…