Lirra Brochann is second-in-command to a force conducting secret military experiments on the creations of Xoriat, the Realm of Madness. When the government threatens to withdraw support for the experiments, the alchemist in charge, Lirra’s own uncle, makes a drastic error and a portal to Xoriat is opened. In trying to stop the ensuing madness, Lirra becomes bonded to one of the experiments, a symbiotic tentacle whip with a will of its own. Maddened by his connections to Xoriat, her uncle and his sudden forces of symbiotically bound soldiers threaten all Lirra once stood for. But stopping them means she’ll have to gain control of the tentacle whip.
- Lirra Brochann, a captain in the Karrnathi army. Lirra is assigned to the top secret facility known as the Outguard.
- Vaddon Brochann, a general in the Karrnathi army. A lion-haired man in his mid-fifties, General Brochann is in command of the Outguard under the command of Warlord Bergerron.
- Elidyr Brochann, an expert artificer and brother to General Vaddon Brochann. Elidyr heads the experiments being performed at the Outguard with the help of Sinnoch.
- Sinnoch, a dolgaunt from the plane of Xoriat who has been trapped on Eberron. Taken in by Elidyr as a partner, the two explore the potentials of symbionts for the Karrnathi army.
- Rhedyn, an officer in the Karrnathi army, and nephew of Warlord Veit Bergerron. Rhedyn was a former love interest of Lirra when they were in the Rekkenmark Academy.
- Ksana, a half-elf cleric of the Sovereign Host under the command of her old friend, General Vaddon Brochann.
- Osten, a soldier in the Karrnathi Army assigned to the Outguard.
- Ranja, a female shifter under the employ of a rival warlord of Veit Bergerron, Arnora Radkogr.
- Longstrider and Shatterfist, two warforged under the command of Warlord Bergerron.
- Ysgithyrwyn, a daelkyr lord of Xoriat and the true master of Sinnoch.
At the OutgardEdit
The novel opens with an experiment underway: conscriptured Karrnathi soldier Osten has been bonded with a symbiont from the plane of Xoriat: a tentacle whip grafted to his arm. The whip, deadly sharp and poisonous, has been been fighting Osten's mind, and has almost won. Looking on, General Vaddon Brochann, his daugher Lirra, and Lirra's ex-lover Rhedyn, all members of the Karrnathi military, watch as Osten loses the fight and attacks. Lirra tried to stop him, but fails, causing her father to step in and run Osten through.
Osten has not died, however; both he and Lidda find themselves in the care of Ksana, the outpost's cleric. We find out that Osten and Lirra are part of the Outguard: a special detachment led by Lirra's father General Brochann under the command of Warlord Veit Bergerron. Their goal: to help General Brochann's brother Elidyr succeed in his symbiont grafting experiments, giving the Karrnathi military yet another powerful tool. Unfortunately, word has come from Warlord Bergerron: shut down the project.
While Lidda thinks this may be for the best, her uncle Elidyr is much more reluctant. With the help a refugee from Xoriat, a dolgaunt named Sinnoch, Elidyr has nearly completed the creation of a device that will make the bondings much more effective. General Brochann gives permission for one last test. Elidyr and Sinnoch can use their device, called the Overmantle, to try one more time with the four remaining symbionts they have on site. Unfortunately, Sinnoch has a secret agenda.
The Second ExperimentEdit
Osten, now healed by Ksana, volunteers for the new experiment along with three other Karrnathi troops. Elidyr activates the Overmantle, but things to not go as planned. Not only do the four symbionts (a tongueworm, a crawling gauntlet, a stormstalk, and the tentacle whip) instantly take control of their subjects, but the Overmantle punches a small hole between Eberron and Xoriat. Sinnoch has used the device to allow his master, a daelkyr lord named Ysgithyrwyn, to cross the planes. Elidyr, realizing Sinnoch's plan, disables the Overmantle, but not before Ysgithyrwyn reaches through the portal, touching Elidyr in the forehead. Elidyr's mind is instantly warped by Ysgithyrwyn, and he goes mad.
Meanwhile, the four symbiont-controlled Karrnathi troopers are drawn into a fight with Lirra, Ksana, Rhedyn, and General Brochann. Over the course of the fight, Osten is killed, and the tentacle whip attaches to Lirra. Lirra is just able to retain control, but finds the tentacle whip hard to fight within her mind. The other three Karrnathi volunteers are killed, and their symbionts bond with the now-crazed Elidyr. While the others are hurt, Elidyr flees the Outguard, with Lirra in pursuit.
The Birth of Lady RuinEdit
While Elidyr's experiment was falling apart, the Outguard was being spied upon by a shifter named Ranja, an agent of rival Warlord Arnora Radkogr. When both Elidyr and Lirra fled the Outguard, Ranja decided to follow. After finding Elidyr mad, Ranja caught up with Lirra in the nearby town of Gierred. After a run-in with drunk garrison soldiers, Lirra is dubbed "Lady Ruin" by Ranja. While there, Ranja and Lirra find the town assaulted by Elidyr and his new minions: Karrnathi farmers mutated by Elidyr with his new powers given to him by Ysgithyrwyn.
While Elidyr assaults Geirrid, General Brochann informs Warlord Bergerron of the incident. Bergerron orders General Brochann to retrieve Elidyr and Lirra, and gives the general two of his warforged (Longstrider and Shatterfist) to help him on his mission. The majority of the Outguard, including Ksana, Osten, Rhedyn, and a captured and guarded Sinnoch join the general on his search. Unbeknownst to the general, however, Rhedyn is allied with Sinnoch, and the two work on repairing the Overmantle. The search party finds out that Elidyr is attacking Geirrid, and rush to the town.
Elidyr and the mutated farmers (called "white-eyes" by Lirra) are attacked: first by Lirra and Ranja, and soon joined by the Outguard troops. As the fight ensues, Elidyr orders the white-eyes to merge into one amorphous creature, with tentacles that grab and pull all of its foes into its mass. Elidyr reunites with Sinnoch and Rhedyn, and the three leave with the Overmantle, leaving the Outguard to deal with the white-eyes mass. Luckily, Ksasa uses her divine powers to defeat the mass, and in the aftermath, Lirra surrenders herself into her father's custody.
After confirming Lidda and Ranja are to be trusted, General Brochann releases them from custody. He mobilizes the Outguard on the hunt for Elidyr, Sinnoch, and Rhedyn, who have fled to Sinnoch's cave in the Nightwood. On the way, the Outguard face a platoon of dolgrims, acting as agents of Sinnoch and Elidyr. The Outguard defeat the dolgrims, but lose forty of their number to the aberrations. Lidda uses her whip to interrogate one, and it reveals the location of Sinnoch's cave.
The Outguard find Sinnoch's cave, where they find the trio waiting for them. Eldiyr had repaired the Overmantle as best he could; and this new Overmantle now created a zone where Eberron and Zoriat now intersected. The Outguard are assaulted by two beholders and a mind flayer, with Ysgithyrwyn on the way. However, before the daelkyr lord arrives, Lirra uses her tentacle whip to destroy the Overmantle. During the battle, Sinnoch is killed, but Elidyr and Rhedyn flee. The novel ends with Lirra, Osten, and Ranja continuing the hunt for Elidyr and Rhedyn.