Tales of the Righteous Vanguard
Part Eleven: Vecna Lives! - Chapter 8
It was just after midnight, in the earliest minutes of Earthday, the 20th day of Reaping, in the Common Year of 581, when the Righteous Vanguard was led into an ambush in a rock quarry about 13 miles to the southwest of the city of Verbobanc, and where they also, less than a minute later, had killed all but two of the attacking cultists. One of the two cultists that did not die that night, a spellcaster that none of the band’s members ever saw, but whose presence was felt by the few spells it cast, apparently fled the scene when the ambush quickly turned against the cultists. But the other of the two, one of the Blood of Venca and the last of the cultists to go down, the band managed to capture alive and, later on, question him about the cult’s activities. But first, the band looked about the quarry and checked the bodies of their enemies for any magic items or other things of interest, while Alavarius tended to injuries. One item of curiosity was that Turim, the old man with the wooden leg, had somehow remained completely unharmed throughout the entire fight. In fact, despite his apparent handicaps, he proved to be quite capable with a cutlass, and managed to defend himself very handily. When asked how he managed to avoid being unharmed by the fireball that engulfed them, he claimed it had something to do with a magic ring that he wore. But when Nero cast a detect magic spell in the area, he could detect no magic on the old man. This led some members of the band to become suspicious of Turim. Some members of the band, such as Alavarius, even went so far as to ponder the idea, as far-fetched as it may have sounded, that Turim was actually the Whispered One, the real Lord Vecna in disguise! After the band had gathered anything of value from the dead bodies of the cultists, Alavarius cast a detect thoughts spell and they began to question the captured fighter. He, of course, did not want to answer any questions. But simply asking certain questions was enough to make him think about the answers and therefore provide Alavarius with a good deal of information. In this way the band learned that the half-elf Oaklin had deliberately led the band into an ambush. But most importantly, they learned that the cult’s secret hideout was in the basement of the Scythe and Sheaf Inn. With this information, the band returned to the nearby Rock Powder Inn, where they informed the innkeeper that the quarry was now safe and that the trouble had been caused by a group of bandits, all of which were now dead or captured. Then, despite the rainy conditions and the late hour of the night, the band escorted their captured cultist all the way back to Verbobanc, where they turned him over to the city guards. Then, because they did not want to take the risk of going to their rooms at the Scythe and Sheaf Inn, they returned to Kron Hall to get some rest. The next morning, the band slept until about 10 o’clock. When they did finally get ready for the day, the first thing they did was to go to the palace and report to Sir Alfentrask, as they had been instructed to, and told him most of what had taken place on the previous night. However, when asked if they knew where the cult was located, they told Sir Alfentrask that they suspected it might be in the basement of the Red Don Inn. This they did because they did not want the city guards to risk their lives in an attack on the cult’s hideout, knowing full well that many good men could die in the process. The band, acting as they were so often accustomed to, also tried to maintain control on the investigation and any assault on the cult, rather than turning things over to the local authorities, which was understandable as they had done all the work in the investigation so far. But, clearly, Sir Alfentrask saw things differently from his perspective, and believed the band had over-stepped their bounds and were treading on toes in a case where they had no jurisdiction. As a result, a bit of a conflict arose, and Sir Alfentrask was forced to exert his authority, telling the band that he would gather a small force of men and at 3 o’clock, and that they would do a thorough investigation of the Red Don Inn. He told the band that they were welcome to join him and his men, but made it clear that he would be in charge of the operation. The band agreed to this. Then they told Sir Alfentrask that needed to do some more information gathering and left the palace. The band, now realizing that they had only a short while before the city guards would storm into an inn where they knew the cult was not located, and encouraged by Turim who seemed very eager to battle the cult, decided to go ahead and make a raid into the basement of the Scythe and Sheaf. So they immediately set out for the east side of the city where the inn was located. Once there, Alavarius did some reconnaissance with an arcane eye spell and a clairvoyance spell, which, despite the recent difficulties with divination spells, managed to work as hoped. With this, they located a secret passageway that led away from the basement. Into this secret passageway the band transported themselves using a dimension door and Dravos’ dimensional hop ability. Then quietly, they moved down the passageway towards a chamber where they could hear chanting. Nero, using an invisibility spell to conceal himself, was the first to peak around a corner and see a large chamber filled with more than sixty cultists, all of which chanted, “Hail, Lord Vecna!” over and over, as if Vecna himself was there among them. All but one of the cultists had their backs to the entrance, and all but a few wore ordinary clothes but with green tabards emblazoned with the cult’s symbol. Five of them however, were dressed in rich robes of green and red. Four of these five faced a make-shift altar, while the fifth one stood on the far side of the altar facing the rest of the congregation. His face was hidden in the shadows of his robes. Nero, making use of a message spell, informed his companions of what he saw. Then a quick battle plan was devised and several preparatory spells were cast. When the band was ready, Alavarius cast an aiding spell. Then Nero stepped into the chamber and began the attack by quickly launching two cones of force directly at the center of the group of cultists, making sure to catch those around the altar in the process. To the band’s relief, this killed all the cultists within the cone’s paths except those at the altar. Dravos then moved into the room and positioned himself for his first attack. He was followed by Nicholas and Kieranen. As he moved into the room, Nicholas threw his hammer Whelm at one of the robed figures at the altar, and while he did not know it at the time, he struck in the back, Her Most Sublime Excellency and the Heart of Vecna, or Most High Priest of Vecna, Diraq Malcinex. Before any of the cultists could react, Nero struck again with two more cones of force, each directed to the sides of the chamber and again killing all the cultists except those who were fortunate enough to be standing on the far sides of pillars. Dravos then stepped up and attacked the nearest of the robed figures. Again unknown to him at the time, this was Mondiss, the Thought of Vecna and the cleric/wizard who had fled from the rock quarry on the previous night. Dravos’ attacks combined with the two cones of force were enough to kill him. But it was then that some of the cultists were finally able to react. One of the robed figures turned and revealed itself to be another incarnation of the Eye, the humanoid figure with the giant eyeball in place of a head. Dravos could not help but momentarily meet its gaze. And when he did, Dravos’ life force was immediately sucked out of his body and into the Eye. To everyone’s horror, Dravos’ body suddenly collapsed in a heap. Seeing what it had just done to his companion, Nicholas turned and attacked the Eye, severely wounding it. Kieranen then finished it off and turned to attack the Heart of Vecna, killing her as well. But at that point, one of the few remaining robed figures turned, revealing itself to be a Hand, or a humanoid with a giant hand in place of a head, and attacked Kieranen. It only managed to hit him once with its many sword attacks. But its grasping giant hand did manage to grab Kieranen by the head. Fortunately, Alavarius remembered the words of pain that were written on a piece of paper and found in the possession of a cleric in Greyhawk. These magical words had been intended to keep the Hand under control. So Alavarius read aloud one of the words on the paper, which caused severe pain in the Hand and forced him to release Kieranen. It was then that the last of the robed cultists, the one on the far side of the altar, finally revealed itself. As it threw off its hood, the band could see a withered old man with one eye that appeared very different from the other. He threw up both hands and the band saw that his hands did not match either. From the description given to them by Tenser’s henchman Cymria, the band now recognized Halmadar the Cruel and the possessor of the Eye and Hand of Vecna – all except Nero that is, because upon seeing the creature known as the Eye, Nero had closed his eyes and refused to look at it. Halmadar now raised his left hand and with it, made a fist, clearly expecting a magical effect to occur. But to Halamadar’s apparent surprise, nothing happened. Perhaps even more surprising was what happened next. Turim entered the chamber at that point, his peg-leg thumped across the carpeted floor as he strode past the bodies of the fallen cultists as well as those who still remained in the battle. As he did so, a wave of invisible and yet immense power seemed to flow from him, causing nearly everyone in the room to become awestruck. “Fool!” Turim bellowed at Halmadar, his voice far stronger than ever before. “You thought you could claim the power of Vecna with the mere Eye and Hand? I will not be usurped by a worm like you.” And with that, Turim grabbed Halmadar by the throat in a vice-like grip. Nicholas and Kieranen, two of the very few that did not become overwhelmed with awe, continued to fight on and with their combined efforts, managed to kill the Hand. But no one else in the room stirred, all their attention now focused on Turim as he grasped Halmadar in an unbreakable hold. Turim then reached up with his other hand and ripped the left eye from Halmadar’s skull. Then he did the same to Halamadar’s left hand. As soon as this happened, Halmadar’s body rapidly decayed and crumbled into a pile of shattered bones and dust. Suddenly, Turim’s appearance changed. His peg-leg vanished and his whole body was restored, with the Eye and the Hand of Vecna becoming a part of him. He now seemed stronger than before, more vital. Triumphantly he then turned towards the Righteous Vanguard and spoke. “Know my allies, that I am the true Vecna. Thanks to your aid, I shall reign supreme in the heavens.” He then made a move as if he intended to destroy the band with one wave of his hand – but then he stopped. “No,” he said upon reflection. “I will not kill you. Let it be said that Vecna is a generous god. Indeed, because you have been such faithful servants, whether you were so knowingly or not, I will make you great and powerful over all of the Flanaess. Come to Tovag Baragu and collect your reward!” And with that, Vecna, formerly known to the band as Turim, vanished, teleporting away. With Vecna now gone the battle was over. Only ten of the cultists remained and they were no threat to the band as they were still left in a stupor of awe and amazement. And fortunately, with the death of the Eye, Dravos’ life force had returned to his body and he was now able to pick himself up off the floor. So the band gathered up the ten cultists while the bodies of the fallen were examined for magic items and anything else of value. Any injuries the band had were also healed. Then the band talked briefly about what had just occurred. It seemed that the idea of Turim being Vecna was perhaps, not so far-fetched after all. As for Tovag Baragu, Alavarius explained to the rest of the band that it was the sight of some ancient ruins in what was once the Baklunish Empire before the Invoked Devastation destroyed it. It was said to have powerful mysterious magical properties to it. But it was also more than a month’s journey away by horseback. Each member of the band seemed to agree at this point that somehow, they needed to find a way to get to Tovag Baragu – but exactly why each member wanted to go was perhaps not entirely clear. First, however, they needed to wrap things up in Verbobanc. And the first thing they needed to do was to stop Sir Alfentrask from raiding the Red Don Inn. So Nero and Kieranen went to the palace, just as he was gathering his men, and explained to him that they had been attacked by cultists at the Scythe and Sheaf and that they had subsequently discovered the cultist’s hideout in the basement there. Sir Alfentrask then took his men and followed Nero and Kieranen back to the Scythe and Sheaf. There they arrested the ten cultists as well as the innkeeper and closed up the inn so the guards could further investigate it. Sir Alfentrask asked the band more questions and eventually sent them on their way. The band then went to the Temple of St. Cuthbert where they spoke to Bishop Haufren. He too asked the band many questions about their recent events. When the band was finally done answering questions, they returned to Kron Hall. At this point, they were still planning on going to Tovag Baragu as soon as possible. But when they got to Kron Hall, something happened that changed their minds. Waiting for them at Kron Hall was the gnome guide Vargannos Ache-Feet. He wanted to ask them if they had decided yet when they wanted to go to Osnabrolt. By now, the band had dismissed the idea of going to Osnabrolt, believing that it was no longer all that important. But then Alavarius remembered that he had sensed that Vargannos had an interesting tale about Osnabrolt that none of them had ever asked him about. So they asked Vargannos about this and he told them a tale about a man who visited the gnome village a very long time before and had convinced them to hide a powerful sword and to keep it a secret. After listening to Vargannos’ tale, they realized that the sword in the tale might possibly be the Sword of Kas, which was used in the battle that originally caused Vecna’s downfall. Thinking that this sword might be of use to the band, they decided to go to Osnabrolt after all. It also occurred to Nero that, as far as they knew, the bodies of the Circle of Eight had never been recovered, and this also needed to be looked into. Before leaving Verbobanc however, there was one more thing that the band wanted to do – and that was to hunt down the hale-elf Oaklin and make him pay for leading them into an ambush. It did not take long for the band to track him down. Dravos and Nero were the first to catch up with him and they wanted to punish him themselves. But when Alavarius caught up to them, he immediately alerted Nicholas and Kieranen who showed up quickly and insisted that he be turned over to the authorities after answering a few questions. This was done, much to the disappointment of Nero and Dravos, and the band called it a night. On the following day, Freeday the 21st, before the band could set out, they were summoned once again to the palace where once again they had to answer a series of questions, this time from the Provost of the City, Rollo Augustin. After answering his questions, the Righteous Vanguard, swearing never again to set foot in Verbobanc, headed out with their guide into the Kron Hills and on their way to Osnabrolt.