Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Eleven: Vecna Lives! – Chapter I

It was on Freeday, the 28th day of Patchwall, in the Common Year of 580, when the
Righteous Vanguard had their final battle against the Necromancer Elock and his cousin,
Tracy Windstrider. With Nero and his familiar Maximo being the only survivors of the
battle, it was left up to them to gather up the bodies of the fallen and any possessions they
had on them at the time. It was a grim task made all the more difficult by the despair that
Nero felt at having witnessed the deaths of nearly all of his closest friends. But, as was
often the case in situations such as this, Nero could take some comfort in the very real
hope that his friends were not lost for good, and that they could be resurrected and made
whole so that once again they may come to stand at his side.
To this purpose, Nero placed the bodies of his fallen companions in his portable
hole. Then he collected any magic items he could find from what remained of the two
vanquished enemies, including the arcane tome known as the Serpin Lexicon, and likewise
placed them in the portable hole. With this unpleasant business accomplished as quickly as
possible, he took one final look around at the cavern where so much death and destruction
had recently occurred and cast a dimension door spell, leaving behind the hidden shrine
of the Cult of Nerull. Once outside and in the darkened Suss Forest, he used what time
he had left on his overland flight spell, and headed back in the direction of the town
of Badwall. Unknown to Nero, Nicholas’ wolf companion Whistler, whom Nero had
forgotten about in his deep despair, noted Nero’s departure and sensing that something
bad had happened, followed along behind.
Eventually, Nero’s spell came to an end and when it did, Nero and Maximo, both
exhausted and on the verge of collapse, lay down to rest with no thought of making camp
or setting a watch. Fortunately, Whistler soon caught up to them and kept an eye over
them throughout the night, making sure that their sleep would not be disturbed. The next
morning, Nero and Maximo awoke to find Whistler standing on guard nearby. The three
of them then continued the trek through the forest and by the end of the day they had
made it back to the town of Badwall.
Over the next few days, Nero, Maximo and Whistler, continued their journey and
eventually made it back to the Free City of Greyhawk where they immediately headed
to the Temple of St. Cuthbert. There, Nero, again assuming the guise of Diur Daton,
spoke with the High Priestess, Eritai Kaan-Ipzirel, and told her what had happened to
the Righteous Vanguard asking for her help in bringing them back to life. Because the
Righteous Vanguard had been instrumental in defending the Temple of St. Cuthbert, as
well as the City of Greyhawk, against the Falcon and her Cult of Iuz more than two years

before, Eritai was more than happy to assist. She herself, in fact, over the next couple of
days and weeks, cast raise dead spells on each member of the Righteous Vanguard and
then saw to it that they were cured of any debilitating effects of the raise dead spells. By the
middle of the month of Ready’Reat, each member of the band was back and as healthy as
they had been before entering the Suss Forest.
At about this time, they also identified those items that Nero had recovered from what
remained of Elock and Tracy Windstrider, and with the exception of three, they divided
those items up. Two of the items recovered however, Elock’s Runestaff of the Undying
and his Black Robes of the Archmagi, Alavarius convinced his companions to give to
the Temple of Boccob as they were considered to be evil. The third item was the Serpin
Lexicon, and while it too was intended for evil purposes, it was also thought to be a
possible source of valuable information. So it was hidden and locked away where it was
hoped that the tome would not cause any harm.
At this point, life for the Righteous Vanguard settled down for the most part as each
member of the band, once again, turned for a time to individual pursuits. Almost nine
months, in fact, would pass before the band would again team up and take part in an
adventure as a group. During this time, some members of the band did some adventuring
on their own or with henchmen or with other adventurers, while some spent much of their
time studying, training or teaching others the things they had learned over the past few
years. Some members of the band, likewise spent time working on projects, while all of
them devoted at least a portion of the time relaxing and enjoying life.
About two weeks after their return to Greyhawk, near the end of Ready’Reat, the
Archmage Tenser invited the Righteous Vanguard to his castle on the shores of the Nyr
Dyv. Some members of the band had already been there before, while others, the newer
members of the band, had not. There, Tenser had also invited the other members of the
Circle of Eight, including its leader Mordenkainen, and those members of the Righteous
Vanguard who had not yet met them were introduced to the Circle. Following this, Tenser
played the gracious host, as he was so fond of doing, and talked about some of the legends
of his castle and told stories about things that were happening elsewhere in the Flanaess.
All the while, none of them had any reason to suspect the tragedy that would be
happening to the Circle of Eight in less than nine months’ time.

For some time now, Mordenkainen and the Circle of Eight had been sensing a great
danger to the Free City of Greyhawk. This had come about through divination spells, or
rather the failure of such, concerning the future of the city. It was not just the Circle of
Eight either. But fellow wizards at the Guild of Wizardry had begun to sense something
ominous as well. Whatever it was, Mordenkainen had become worried. And so, wanting
the best, the cream of the crop, he sent the Circle of Eight to investigate.

With this in mind, the Circle of Eight, on the morning of Moonday, the 3rd day of
Reaping, in the Common Year of 581, arrived at a burial mound hidden somewhere in a
range of hills, somewhere in the eastern portion of the continent of Oerik known as the
Flanaess. Through divinations, communes, and other spells they were led to this place
knowing only that a great danger was growing, one that would threaten Greyhawk, and
that this cairn was somehow connected to, but not necessarily the source of, that danger.
The group of wizards, not wanting to cause any alarm which might turn to a panic, had
set out in secrecy several days before and homed in on this point, like participants in a
children’s game of hot and cold. And at this point they were very hot. There was no doubt
that the cairn was somehow related to their troubles.
From the outside, the cairn appeared to be an unexceptional member of that category.
Standing in the center of a wooded hollow, the mound rose above the surrounding slough.
The ground was wet, sucking and thick with moss, but not hazardous to cross. The cairn
rose to form an uneven mound 15 feet high on average. The sides, once steep, were
rounded and covered with moss and vines. Several small saplings had taken root there. The
top was thick with plants, even massive oaks, a testimony to the age of the cairn. Along the
southern edge, the earth had collapsed inward to reveal a root-choked passageway lined
with heavy blocks of stone.
Several members of the Circle cast a few protective spells on themselves and cautiously
approached, unaware of the danger that lay within. As they drew near the southern edge of
the mound, they could see where the mound was sagging inward revealing a dark passage
beyond. Damp air, thick with the odor of moldering earth, hung around the entrance.
Thick roots clogged the passage. A few detection spells indicated that the entire mound
radiated abjuration magic and that there were no other entrances into the cairn other than
what was visible before them. Bigby led the way as Otiluke followed in close behind. A
light spell was cast as the group of wizards slowly proceeded into the exposed passageway.
But they were soon held up by the roots that choked the passageway. So Otiluke cast a
burning hands spell and quickly cleared a path.
But as the smoke cleared out from the burning roots, they saw that about 20 feet in, the
passage ended in a solid block of curved stone, carefully cut and set in place. There was
some kind of carving on the stone, but patches of thick, red fungus covered parts of it. A
detect magic spell indicated that a protective spell against evil had been set on the portal
– but whether to keep something out or to keep something in, they could not tell. Bigby
began to brush away some of the red fungus covering the portal, in order to get a better
look at it, only to realize too late that the red fungus was actually russet mold. Fortunately,
Bigby was able to turn away and hold his breath before the spores from the mold had any
adverse effect on him. Then a spell was quickly cast that protected all members of the
Circle from any gases, including mold spores. Following this, an acid splash spell was cast
which quickly destroyed the mold.

With this matter taken care of, the Circle then discussed how they might go about getting
past the portal. A closer examination revealed that the portal had been mortared into place
and indicating that it was never intended to be opened. So Jallarzi, who had only joined the
Circle of the Eight just six months before and was the only female member of the group,
offered to cast a passwall spell through the portal. This was agreed upon and so the spell
was cast. At this point, Otiluke, who had grown somewhat impatient, took the lead and
peered into the chamber beyond.
Here he saw a circular chamber that arched up perhaps ten feet. It was difficult to tell,
since half the chamber was a tangle of tree roots. The floor was a litter of broken bits of
stone and dirt, but at the far side was a large carved block. Off to the right was another
archway, free of the tangled roots. And just ahead, on the far side of the chamber sat
three creatures that resembled thin, lanky wolves with reddish-brown fur, white claws, and
burning fiery eyes. One of these creatures bounded towards the wizards and breathed out
a cone of fiery breath, causing Otiluke and Bigby to dodge to the side to keep from being
badly burned, while the other two creatures followed in behind. Some of the wizards cast
spells, such as magic missile, at what they now realized were hell hounds. But most of the
wizards were not in any position to even see the hounds. Otiluke tried to defend himself
with a color spray spell, which was completely ineffective, while Bigby backed away out
of range of the hound’s fire breath. The other two hounds then breathed out cones of fire
as the first one bit Otiluke. Otiluke, now feeling flustered and in pain, and wanting to kill
the hell hounds as quickly as possible, made the poor decision of throwing a bead from his
necklace of missiles into the chamber. Not only were the hell hounds immune to the fire
caused by the resulting explosion, but the chamber into which the bead was thrown was
too small to contain the explosion, causing fire to spill out into the passageway and striking
some of the wizards. Fortunately, it was not a very powerful explosion, as it also nearly
caused part of the ceiling to collapse. Rary, at this point, had had enough of Otiluke’s
bumbling, and cast a spell that summoned three huge earth elementals into the chamber.
These earth elementals then quickly killed the hell hounds without so much as a scratch.
Otiluke, now perhaps feeling a bit embarrassed, and trying to save face with the other
members of the Circle, claimed that he no longer wanted to lead, allowing Bigby to step
in front of him. Next to Jallarzi, Otiluke was the second newest member of the Circle and
easily the least liked member. Often the impatient one and always trying to impress the
others with his use of offensive spells, it was usually seen as an attempt by him to make up
for his puny size.
With Bigby now back in the lead, the wizards moved into the circular chamber. Nystul
examined the root covered ceiling, looking for any more danger, while Tenser used his rod
of enemy detection to search down the far passageway. No more enemies were noted at
that point, so the wizards took a look around the rest of the chamber, finding nothing of
interest but the large stone block.

Upon closer examination this was determined to be a sarcophagus, most likely intended
for a queen. But it apparently was never used as such, as it had no identifying inscriptions
on it and when Rary ordered the earth elementals to remove the stone slab that was its lid,
nothing was found inside but dust and a few bugs. Rary then sent the earth elementals off
to scout ahead in the direction of the far passage but underground, and the Circle soon
followed behind.
A short way into the curving passage though, a magical trap was set off, causing a
forcecage to appear in the middle of the passageway. Both Bigby and Otiluke dodged out
of the way in time and avoided being caught in the cage. But Bigby had to dodge ahead and
was now separated from the rest of the group, while rest of the group was now unable to
proceed any further. Fortunately, Jallarzi once again had the answer to this problem and
cast a disintegrate spell, thus removing the forcecage.
Just around the bend from there, the Circle then found that the passage was blocked by
a large, rough-sided pit. Apparently a section of the old stone floor had caved in, leaving a
gaping hole. With a light spell and a closer look they could see that sludgy, black water took
up about five feet of the 15 foot deep pit. To avoid this obstacle, a mass overland flight
spell was cast on all members of the Circle and the wizards moved on.
But ten feet from the pit and around another bend, the passage ended at another thick
slab of stone. By now, Rary’s summoning spell had expired and the earth elementals
were gone. So they could not be of any use here. Like the previous stone portal, this
one was heavily carved with magical inscriptions. With a read magic spell and a detect
magic spell, the group determined that this portal was sealed with a powerful protective
device like none they had ever seen before, though they could detect both abjuration and
transmutation schools from it. They also came to the conclusion that unless they dispelled
the ward cast upon the portal, they would not be able to pass through it with anything like
a passwall spell, dimension door or even a teleport. So a dispel magic spell was attempted.
To their satisfaction, the dispel magic spell appeared to work. With this out of the way,
Rary cast another disintegrate spell on the portal and suddenly they now had access to what
appeared to be the final chamber inside the cairn.
Peering inside, they could see that this chamber was by far the largest inside the mound.
It was crammed with ancient burial offerings. These had long since corroded, withered,
and rotted, leaving only ghost-like husks of what they once were. Piled haphazardly along
the walls were large pots with faded glazes, wooden chairs that appeared they would
crumble at a touch, and bronze art pieces, crusted in green patina. Even the walls of the
chamber spoke of past opulence, since they were covered with strange, clearly magical
writings. A large stone platform filled one end of the chamber; atop it was an elaborately
carved sarcophagus. The wood had begun to rot away, and a husk-like corpse was visible
through the holes in the side.

Here, the Circle was a bit tentative to move inside, so Tenser cast a detect undead spell.
He detected no undead. So the group cautiously stepped into the chamber, though none
dared just yet to approach the sarcophagus. It was then that Rary spoke his famous last
words.
“I’ll go in there. I’m not afraid,” he said as he boldly stepped past his companions to the
front of the group.
The other wizards at the back of the group then shuffled in behind their companions so
that they too could get a look at the chamber and its contents, though they soon would
discover it would have been better for them had they not.
At this point, none of them were aware of it yet, but already their fates had been sealed
and their doom was at hand. Suddenly, each of them heard an unusual sound…like that
of fingers being snapped. Then they heard another sound, that of movement directly
behind them. The wizards turned to look and saw that three vicious looking gargoyles
were standing there ready to pounce on them. But before anything else could take place,
something else unusual happened. All they could sense was a very brief whirl of motion
behind them and with it, the momentary sound of a buzzing insect, all in a span of a
fraction of a second. When some of the wizards, towards the front of the group, turned
back to face the sarcophagus, now suddenly in complete and utter silence, they saw that
the lid of the sarcophagus was open, and standing there, directly in front of Rary, was the
emaciated corpse that was just a moment before inside the sarcophagus. This, apparently
once human creature, now with its muscles withered away, its hair fallen out and its skin
stretched tight over a bony frame, wore nothing but a loincloth and stood with its left hand
held out and less than an inch away from Rary’s face.
Rary had no chance. Quicker than it takes for an eye to blink, the creature touched Rary
with his open palm and Rary collapsed! His body was dead before it even hit the ground.
In the next instant, the creature turned to Tenser who stood nearby and pointed its left
hand index finger at him. Tenser likewise fell to the ground dead. It then gazed at Bigby
with its hideous left eye and pain began to course through Bigby’s body.
Stunned and dismayed by the sudden turn of events, those members of the Circle
still alive frantically began scrambling to find some means to defend themselves, while
the gargoyles began to attack. Nystul cast a rainbow pattern spell, the only spell he had
available that did not require a verbal component. It caused one of the gargoyles to
become entranced and stop attacking. Drawmij, meanwhile, cast a mislead spell, which
caused an illusionary duplicate of himself to appear while at the same time, turned him
invisible. None of the other members of the Circle however apparently had any spells
available that did not require a verbal component. So Bigby took off running to the far side
of the room hoping he could find an area that wasn’t magically silenced. He did not have
any success with this.

Otiluke was being attacked by gargoyles; so he pulled out his dagger and tried to defend
himself against them, which for Otiluke, was an act of shear desperation. Jallarzi used her
magical staff to try and strike the corpse-like creature, but with no success. Otto, who was
also a cleric of Boccob in addition to being a powerful wizard, tried to harm the undead-
appearing creature by channeling positive energy around him. But it seemed to have no
effect on the creature.
The creature then looked at Nystul, held out its left hand and pointed its thumb
downward. With this, Nystul joined his dead companions on the ground. Following this,
the creature gazed directly at Drawmij, despite his invisibility, and pointed all five fingers
of his left hand at him, causing a beam to shoot out and strike Drawmij. Drawmij was then
reduced to a pile of dust.
While Otiluke and Jallarzi continued to attack in the same fashion as before, Otto
pulled out his magical flail and tried to strike the creature – again with no success. Bigby
meanwhile, gave up on trying to find an area in the chamber that wasn’t magically silenced,
and instead tried to flee past the gargoyles and out of the cairn. Unfortunately, he collided
with an invisible wall of force that had suddenly formed in front of the entrance to the
chamber. Now he too was being attacked by the gargoyles which took advantage of his
undefended position.
At this point, the creature touched Jallarzi with three fingers of his left hand and Jallarzi
was counted among the fallen dead. Immediately afterwards, the creature gazed at Otto,
made a fist with its left hand, and he too was reduced to a pile of dust. Moments later,
Otiluke fell before the attacks of one of the gargoyles. This left Bigby as the only member
of the Circle still alive. Realizing that without a divine miracle, he too would soon perish,
he turned and pounced at the creature, attempting to wrestle him to the ground. But even
in this, Bigby found that he was no match for the creature. The creature then touched
Bigby with two fingers of his left hand, draining life energy from him in the process.
And while this did not quite kill Bigby, the attacks from the two gargoyles that followed,
certainly did.

Later that same day, a knock was heard on the front door of Nero’s Tower. Nero’s
librarian, Arthur answered the door to find Cymria of Celadon, the female elven henchman
of Tenser, standing there very distraught and pleading to speak with the Righteous
Vanguard. Nero, again posing as Diur, came to the door and listened to Cymria’s request.
But she clearly did not want to explain what it was that she wished to speak to the
Righteous Vanguard about while standing outside, asking instead to come inside. So Nero
asked her a few personal questions hoping to insure that she was who she claimed to be,
and once he was satisfied, spoke the command word for the protective ward on his tower
and invited her in.

By mid-afternoon, a short while later, all the members of the Righteous Vanguard were
gathered at Nero’s Tower. It was then that Cymria explained to the band that, earlier in the
day, she had seen a vision, a very detailed and haunting vision of what appeared to be the
deaths of every member of the Circle of Eight. She described the vision as precisely as she
could and afterwards told the band that she truly believed the Circle of Eight was no more.
The band asked her a few questions and she answered them the best that she could, explaining
that it could not have been a mere dream for she was not asleep at the time. Nor did she
have any kind of history of having visions or dreams of this kind. Cymria was truly worried
about the Circle, Tenser in particular, and asked the band for their aid in determining what
had happened to them.
It was also pointed out that Mordenkainen was apparently not with the Circle at the
time and that there was a possibility that he was completely unaware of what happened
to the Circle, assuming of course, that Cymria was correct in her belief that the Circle
of Eight was dead. Regardless of whether or not Cymria was right, everyone agreed that
Mordenkainen should at least be contacted. Unfortunately, no one, not even Cymria,
knew how to contact Mordenkainen. But Cymria suggested they talk with either Kieren
Jalucian, the Master of the Wizard’s Guild, or Ravel Dasinder, the Patriarch at the House
of Boccob. She believed that one of them would know how to contact Mordenkainen.
Nero preferred to talk to Ravel Dasinder. So it was agreed to go and see him first. But
since it was now late in the day, they decided to wait until the following morning before
venturing into the city.

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arkhemedes

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