Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Eleven: Vecna Lives! - Chapter 10

By the end of the day, on Sunday, the 23rd day of Reaping, in the Common Year of 581, the Righteous Vanguard had acquired the Sword of Kas and had repulsed an attack from a large band of ogres that were led by three priests of Iuz, one of whom was Beryn Talkin, whom they managed to capture alive. While being questioned by the band, Beryn tried to convince them that they could work together in an effort to defeat Vecna.

Some members of the band, Nero in particular, believed there might be some merit in what the priest of Iuz had to say, for it seemed that Vecna was far too powerful for the band to defeat without the aid of someone as powerful as Iuz, even with the Sword of Kas in their possession. The seemingly prophetic dreams of Alavarius, over the past few weeks, also appeared to support the idea that Iuz would somehow play a role in the struggles against Vecna.

In his recurring dreams, Alavarius had seen visions of a large scraggly wolf, which seemed to be associated with a grinning skull and a falcon, chasing after him through an ancient forest. Assuming that Alavarius and his companions had interpreted these dreams correctly, the wolf represented Iuz and the ancient forest represented the past. In these dreams, Alavarius encountered a band of strangers which killed the falcon, and there was very little doubt that the band of strangers was the Righteous Vanguard. Eventually, in these dreams, the wolf gradually fell behind and seemingly out of the picture and Alavarius found himself in a much younger forest, which probably represented the present. But soon there appeared another threat. This time it was a giant snake, which was thought to symbolize Vecna, and it too seamed to chase after Alavarius.

However, during the recent purification rites, while Alavarius was hallucinating and experiencing strange visions, he was once again transported into the midst of that darkened forest and forced to flee from the giant snake. Then suddenly the forest came to an end and Alavarius found himself standing at the edge of a sheer precipice, teetering at the brink of destruction with no place to turn. Behind him, the giant snake closed in on him, cutting off any pathway back into the forest. Slowly the giant snake advanced towards him, and there seemed to be no chance for Alavarius to escape. Then Alavarius remembered how the falcon, in an earlier dream, called out for the wolf to come to her aid. So Alavarius did the same, and soon the giant wolf appeared. Upon seeing the giant snake it attacked and the two giant beasts engaged in a ferocious battle. With, the snake and the wolf now caught up in an epic struggle, and with their attentions no longer focused on Alavarius, he suddenly remembered the wings on his back. Somehow, he had forgotten about his wings, but now he spread them and flew up high in the sky, far, far away from any danger.

This most recent vision by Alavarius seemed to suggest that Iuz could be useful in defeating Vecna. And it was partly because of this that Nero was in favor of allying the band, at least temporarily, with the priests of Iuz. But Nicholas had not forgotten the struggles that the band had gone through two years before in the City of Greyhawk against the Falcon and her Cult of Iuz, and he would have no part in any alliance with Iuz. He pointed out some of the atrocities that Iuz and his followers had done and reminded everyone that Iuz could not be trusted. The band debated the issue for some time. But eventually, Kieranen and Dravos likewise came to agree strongly with Nicholas. Kieranen believed they should kill all the priests of Vecna, while Dravos suggested that they let Beryn go so he could tell other followers of Vecna that the Righteous Vanguard had the Sword of Kas, in the hopes that they would leave the gnomes of Osnabrolt alone. But after further debate, it was agreed by most members of the band, that Iuz and his followers would soon learn that the Righteous Vanguard had the Sword of Kas, whether or not they spared the lives of any priests. And so it was decided by the band, though it was not a unanimous decision, that the priest of Iuz would be executed. Kieranen, who was the most vocal member in favor of this course of action, had no qualms about doing what he felt needed to be done, and saw to it that the grizzly task was accomplished.

Nero was not happy about the group’s decision, but realizing he was out-voted, he went along with it. Still, it is often considered by numerous sages since that time, that this was the point at which Nero seriously began to contemplate the betrayal of his companions. Whether or not this is true, we may never know for sure. But we can be fairly certain that Nero was greatly tempted by Vecna’s offer of power as a reward, for he had suggested more than once the idea of using this power to defeat Vecna. And, as we shall see, there would soon be other indications that Nero’s companions were beginning to have some concerns about whether or not they could trust Nero in return.

With all the priests of Iuz now dead, the band took some time to heal up any injuries, both on themselves as well as the gnomes of Osnabrolt. Then they resumed their feast while they examined some of the magic items recovered from the bodies of the priests. It was not much longer after that that the band decided to turn in for the night, for the past couple of days had been long and trying.

On the following morning, Moonday, the 24th, the band awoke feeling much more rested and ready to press on with their objective to return to Greyhawk and prepare for their journey to Tovag Baragu. Initially, it was their plan to use more wind walk spells, which would make their return trip to Greyhawk less than a day. But before setting out, they were met by a pleasant surprise when Cymria of Celadon suddenly appeared before them. The elven female, who had been a henchman of the mage Tenser, greeted the band and said she had been trying to locate them for days using Tenser’s magical mirror. Finally, it appeared, she had succeeded and she offered the band a quick trip back to Magepoint. From there it would only take a couple of hours to reach Greyhawk.

The band, of course, accepted Cymria’s offer and soon found themselves in Magepoint. There, Cymria told the band that, over the past few weeks, she had had no real success in finding any information on the whereabouts of the Circle of Eight. So the band told her that they had done much better in their efforts and filled her in on almost everything that had occurred with them since they last saw her. When they were done with this they asked her if they might make use of the magical mirror in order to make their journey to Tovag Baragu a much shorter one. She agreed to this, and the band used Alavarius’ wind walk spells to make it to Greyhawk.

That afternoon, the Righteous Vanguard spent their time gathering a few supplies and making plans for their encounter with Vecna in Tovag Baragu. Once again, the band debated for a while about what to do when they met with Vecna. Some wanted to attack him on first sight, making sure that the band was well prepared before doing so and hoping that things like the Sword of Kas would give them an advantage. Others remembered how easily they were awestruck by the mere presence of Vecna and believed that it would be foolish to try and attack him without knowing for certain they had an advantage. Alavarius then reminded the band about the purple gem he had been given by Ravel Dasinder, believing it to have been a gift from Boccob. He also reminded them of the mysterious prophecy which said:

Two titans embraced, locked before a ring
Then the stone is sundered and forth the powers bring
Upon the sign the bearer must decide
To call upon the powers and cast them both aside

By now, the band believed they had figured out most of the verses. The stone, they agreed, referred to the purple gem and when it was sundered, or broken, it would bring forth the powers from within the gem. “Upon the sign the bearer must decide” meant that the bearer of the gem must decide when to use the gem and that he would be given a sign. “To call upon the powers” seemed to indicate the powers within the ring, though it could also be a reference to other powers, such as the gods, for example. “And cast them both aside” was a bit vague. It could have meant to cast both titans aside, to cast both the titans and the ring aside, to cast two powers aside, to cast the stone and the powers aside or to cast two of something else aside. But the way it was worded seemed to indicate that it meant to cast both titans aside. The question then remained – what were the “Two titans embraced, locked before a ring”, and what was the sign? Recently, the band had begun to suspect that the two titans referred to Vecna and Iuz. But the rest they could only guess at.

While the band was making preparations in Greyhawk, they paid a visit to Ravel Dasinder, the High Patriarch of Boccob, and told him everything they had learned since they last saw him, and asked for any advice he might have.

Upon hearing some of the band’s proposed ideas, Ravel told them that without some sort of divine aid, they had very little chance of affecting Vecna with their magic and even with the Sword of Kas there was little chance they could strike him in combat. So, if for some reason, Vecna chose not to attack back, they would still have a very difficult time trying to defeat him. But it seemed very unlikely that Vecna would not attack back, and Ravel suggested that Vecna was powerful enough to destroy the entire band with a single wave of his hand! This, of course, was very discouraging for the band to hear, and a feeling of hopelessness began to take root in the hearts and minds of the Righteous Vanguard. But despite this, Ravel tried to give them hope by his faith in Boccob, feeling certain that the god of magic and foresight surely knew what Vecna was up to and had a plan to stop him. This however, was not as comforting to the band as Ravel might have thought, for the band was also aware that Boccob was often referred to as Boccob, The Uncaring, and cryptic tales of prophecy that they read not long ago about the death of Magic brought about by the Incomplete Man, did not exactly inspire a sense of hope.

Nero also spoke with Kieren Jalucian at the Guild of Wizardry and they paid a visit to the Greyhawk dragon Sturtevant. But neither of them was able to offer much advice that Ravel had not already given them. Kieranen however, took Sturtevant aside at one point and spoke to him in private. Concerned that he might not be able to place much trust in Nero when the situation became critical, he asked Sturtevant if he might have something that would help to protect him from Nero’s magic. So Sturtevant sold him a protection scroll that would negate all magic around him. Other members of the band likewise took certain precautions to protect themselves should Nero turn against them.

Once the band was satisfied that they had done all the preparations they could, they flew back to Magepoint where they spent the night in Cymria’s home and came up with a plan of action.

On the following morning, Godsday, the 25th, after preparing for the day, the band used

Tenser’s magical mirror to see if they could locate Tovag Baragu. At first the band had no success. So they tied to scry on an area not far from the ancient Stone Circles and eventually located a place about 10 miles from the site. This was an area known as the Dry Steppes and consisted of vast stretches of prairie where rainfall was scarce and few rivers flowed. Once the area was well watered and fertile, forming the homelands of the Baklunish Padishahs and Sultans, but it was destroyed by the Invoked Devastation in the war with the Suloise. Here, in the central portion of the steppes the land was still pleasant and rich, and it was rumored to be home to large hordes of Baklunish nomads that still roamed the area under the rulership of various khans. But from what the band could see through the mirror, the fearsome tribes of the steppes, so often mentioned in explorers’ texts, were strangely absent. So the band, seeing no visible threats anywhere nearby, stepped through the portal formed by the magic mirror and entered a distant land where the air was uncomfortably hot and dry.

At this point, the band used various means, both magical and non-magical, to fly over the land in the direction of Tovag Baragu. For most of the way, they encountered no obstacles and no signs of intelligent life. But when they got to about 3 miles away from the Stone Circles they came upon hundreds of Baklunish tribesmen. These nomads had camped around the Stone Circles completely surrounding them on all sides except where they touched the salt flats on the southwest side where a large lake once existed.

Unsure of how to proceed from here, the band decided to land, so as not to draw a lot of attention to themselves, and approached the nomads. When they drew near to the nomads, Nero and Alavarius tried to greet them in a friendly manner. But the nomads did not respond other than to glare at them with stone cold expressions and step to one side, is if the band had been expected. Realizing they would probably not get much information from the nomads, the band continued to walk towards the Stone Circles and as they passed by, the nomads parted and made no effort to challenge them. Instead, whole families looked toward Tovag Baragu, expectantly waiting for something. The area was strangely quiet with only occasional whinnies from the nomads’ horses breaking the silence.

When the band got to within 1,000 yards of the Stone Circles, they saw a figure standing at the very center of the rings. It appeared to be human and it sometimes moved to one of the arches only to resume its position at the center of the ruin. At 500 yards, the band was reasonably certain that the figure was Turim Varostak, the manifestation of Vecna. But at this point, he gave no indication of having seen the band. The air shimmered between several of the arches. Shadowy movements could be seen through these, but it was impossible to make out any details.

At 100 yards, the band was certain that the figure was Turim, and unlike the old sailor they knew before, this Turim, while once-again one-legged, was very energetic and vital. He no longer stooped and moved about the center of the circle with speed and grace. But he still gave no indication that he had noticed the band’s arrival, as he was busily engaged in some other activity. Between the arches, more detail was now evident. There were five different scenes visible. Three showed moving figures, one of them a large mass of bodies. The fourth was black with shimmering spots of light. The fifth scene was a greasy dull gray, unrelieved by any features save an occasional change in hue.

At this point, the band stopped and made their final plans. Despite the desire to try and take him by surprise and attack him, something that was deemed as a hopeless plan of action, they decided to approach him and speak with him and see if Vecna would indeed reward them with power that they could hopefully use against him. But just to be on the safe side, they decided to cast several preparatory spells on themselves now and even came up with a contingency plan if they decided to run. All the while, Kieranen was carrying the Sword of Kas, and he could feel the sword’s powerful desire to destroy Vecna. So he kept it ready should it be needed.

When the band felt they were as ready as they could be, they continued to approach the Stone Circles. The outer most ring was about 900 feet in diameter, so as they stepped up next to the outer ring, they were about 450 feet away from Turim. There was a sort paved roadway leading to the center of the rings which the band followed along, and as they passed by the first ring of the circle, some members of the band seemed to become aware of a subtle shift in their surroundings. But looking about they could see nothing different either within the circle or outside. As the band drew closer to Turim and the center of the rings, they could make out some of the details of the five scenes that appeared within the arches as if they were windows looking out into other worlds.

The scene nearest to them and to their right seemed to show the strange land of an empire of a much older age. The people there dressed in clothing that had long since been outdated, with garments that at the time were seen only in tomb paintings and ancient statues. Racially the people had an appearance of ancient Keolanders, before the influx of the Suloise. Other clues also seemed to support the antiquity of the scene such as chariots, bronze weapons, and strange races mingled with the predominant Flan.

The second scene, moving counter-clockwise from there, showed a city that was grim and filthy. The streets were filled with goblins and orcs. Skulls seemed to the predominant motif in architecture and decoration. To Alavarius, this scene looked much like how he envisioned the capital city of Iuz, Dorakaa, to be.

The third scene showed another city of ancient design, lit by the moons, stars and torchlight. It rose up over the shore of a gently lapping lake. Ships bobbed along the shore and occasionally flying creatures moved across the sky. From its architectural style and its position by the lake, Alavarius presumed this scene to be showing the former capital of the great Baklunish empire which once stood in the exact spot where the Stone Circles were now located before the Invoked Devastation destroyed it.

The fourth scene, which was only now becoming more visible as the band approached, showed the remains of an ancient palace, now shattered and broken. The destruction could only have occurred just moments before, since rubble was still crumbling away and people were running in confusion. Even in its destruction, the palace looked both majestic and corrupt. The fifth scene, which was just to the left of the band as they approached, looked out over a gray and gloomy expanse. At first it appeared featureless, but upon closer inspection, the dim outline of a massive skull could be seen in the distance.

In all there were five rings of the Stone Circles, each set around the others in a concentric pattern. And as the band continued to approach and pass through each of these rings, Turim still appeared to ignore the presence of the band as it now became obvious that he was actively engage in some ritual and somehow manipulating these windows that looked into these other worlds.

By now, the Sword of Kas was practically screaming within the mind of Kieranen to destroy Vecna, and it was all Kieranen could do to keep from going berserk and running at Turim to take a swing at him. To increase its chance for success, the sword revealed to Kieranen some of its abilities, which included increasing his strength and casting a shield spell around him, which it did. Kieranen had also discovered by this point, that the Sword of Kas was a bloodthirsty sword and it had been far too long since it last fed. Though Kieranen fought the sword with every last once of willpower he had, while at the same time trying not let his companions become aware of the struggle he was going through, some of his companions began to notice the strained look on his face and the bead of sweat running down the side of his face. Kieranen realized that eventually his willpower would give out on him and at that point the sword would take control of him – it was only a question of when.

However, when the band had passed through four of the rings and got to within 60 feet of Turim, Kieranen felt his strength suddenly returned to normal, though the Sword of Kas still urged him on. The band continued moving towards Turim and about 40 feet from him the band reached the fifth and inner most ring. Here they paused, certain that Turim had to be aware of their presence by now. But still the manifestation of Vecna chose to ignore them, and instead seemed to be concentrating on one of the five scenes set around him. The band waited for a moment expecting Turim to stop what he was doing and address them – but he never did. So, after a moment of awkward silence, Nero finally spoke up and said, “Turim, or shall I call you Vecna? We have come to collect our promised reward. You told us that you would make us great and powerful over all of the Flanaess.”

At this point, Turim did stop what he was doing, and turned towards the band to speak to them. But before he got a word out, Kieranen suddenly let out a scream, raised up the Sword of Kas and charged at Turim. But Turim seemed somehow to be expecting this and when Kieranen reached him and before he could swing his sword, Turim lurched towards the elf, reached out his hand and touched him. Kiernan instantly went ridged and fell to the ground paralyzed, while the Sword of Kas slipped from his grasp. Then Turim quickly shot a menacing look at the rest of the band and a familiar wave of awe washed over them leaving them dazed and unable to act. Realizing the futility of trying to fight a being that powerful, the rest of the band just stood there in stunned silence.

But, ignoring the elven warrior that now lay sprawled on the ground at his feet, Turim spoke up and said, “So you have decided to accept my offer. I promised to reward you and I will.” Turim then paused with an evil smile on his face. “I will make any one of you my right hand, my voice on Oerth. Soon, when my worshipers step through from the past, I will be the greatest of all gods. Istus, Incabulos, and the others will be nothing next to Vecna. Join me and you will be more powerful than you can imagine. If you want this, all you need do is one simple thing. Kill your friends. Do this and ultimate power is yours.”

Nero responded by saying, “But you promised to reward us all.”

To which, Turim answered, “I made no such promise. Do you think you can haggle with one as powerful as I? You have heard my offer. Now you must decide whether or not to accept it.”

Nero then glanced at his companions, and for just a moment, looked as if he was seriously considering taking Turim up on his offer. Nicholas and Dravos then shot Nero a very stern look and almost in unison responded by telling Turim that he can take his offer and go to hell with it. So Turim looked at Nero once again as if to ask him for his final answer. And though it took longer for Nero to respond, he shook his head and said, “No deal. I too must decline your offer.”

“That is unfortunate,” Turim said. “In that case, I no longer have any need for you. And since you have refused me, it is you who can now join Kas in eternal hell!” And with that, Turim waved his hand and suddenly the Righteous Vanguard, along with the Sword of Kas, was hurled through one of the windows, which in reality was a portal to another world. It was the gray and gloomy realm with the massive skull in the distance.

Do not despair. There is more to come.



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