Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Ten: On the Eve of Dark Clouds – Chapter 1

It was on Godsday, the 18th day of Wealsun, in the Common Year of 580, when the
Righteous Vanguard left the Tower of Crane the Sorcerer, and battled what they initially
thought was Elock the Necromancer, only to discover that it was a mere undead look-alike
of Elock that they had destroyed. Upon hearing the mocking laughter of the necromancer,
which drifted to them from some unknown location, the band made no effort to seek out
the real Elock, perhaps believing that any attempt to do so would be wasted. They knew
that Elock was a powerful wizard with the ability to instantly transport wherever he wished
and who, most likely, could block any spells they might have to help locate him.

So instead, the band focused on finding the means to return to their homes in
Greyhawk. It had been a very difficult and trying past couple of days, and though they had
accomplished their goal and completed the task required of them by the quest spells placed
on Kieranen and Nero, they had gained little else and Nero had lost his friend and familiar,
Raaze. All in all, other than the fact that they were able to thwart the evil plans of an old
enemy, it was not an adventure from which the band could gain much satisfaction. For
Nero, in fact, it was a life-changing event for the worst, as it caused him, from that point
on, to take a less caring and more cynical attitude towards the world around him.
As for Elock, the band apparently decided not to concern themselves with his evil plots,
most likely suspecting that the day might eventually come, whether by chance or by design,
when they would come face to face once more with the necromancer, and when that day
came, they would deal with him then.

In addition to thoughts such as these, some members of the band were still concerned
about their companion Book, who had mysteriously vanished as they were entering the
tower a couple of days before. Nero had managed to briefly scry on him and saw that he
appeared to be in some far away location, possibly even on another plane. But the band
had found no means of retrieving him in the tower and it was their hope that Book would
be able to find his way back on his own. There seemed to be little else they could do, and
so they turned once more to begin their long trek through the mountains.

Just then, to their surprise and delight, Book suddenly appeared before them in a puff
of smoke. But before they could congratulate him on his return, Book announced in a
rather nervous voice, “Uh, hey guys, get ready. I think we’re about to have some unwanted
company.”

As soon as he said this, two more puffs of smoke appeared to the left and right of the
group and out of each emerged a barbed devil, much like the ones they had faced in the
dungeons of the tower.

A brief battle then ensued with the Righteous Vanguard, once again, proving to be the
clear victors, though they each received a number of injuries in return. When it was over,
Alavarius healed the band up while Book explained to everyone what had happened to
him.

It seems that he had been transported to one of the lower outer plains, although he
could not be sure which one. All he could tell was that the place was infested with devils
and he surmised that the sorcerer Cane had visited the site on occasion during his studies
of the netherworlds. There was a magical gate that apparently led to and from Cane’s
tower, but gaining access to it proved to be very difficult as it was guarded by devils. This
was the reason it took Book so long to return. But after some time spent eluding the devils
in various caves, Book finally snuck through the portal, though not without bringing a
couple of devils in pursuit along with him. Upon returning to the tower and not finding
his companions, he looked about outside the tower and found his companions a short
distance away. He then caught up to them using a teleport spell. Once Book had finished
relating what happened to him, the band told Book all that had taken place inside the
tower while he was gone.

With this done, the band realized they could now have Book teleport everyone back
home. Unfortunately, Book currently did not have any more teleport spells memorized.
So instead, he cast a secure shelter spell where the band rested for about eight hours, after
which, Book rememorized spells. Now, with plenty of teleport spells, the band teleported
back to Greyhawk and returned to their homes.

Once they were back in Greyhawk, life for the band returned to a semblance of
normalcy, although Nero still mourned the loss of his familiar. After some thought on the
matter, Nero decided he would try to replace Raaze with a creature called a homunculus,
which he could craft in the image of a pseudodragon in honor of his lost familiar. With this
thought in mind, Nero spoke to several mages at the Guild of Wizardry to see if anyone
could direct him to someone who could instruct him in the creation of a homunculus.
Over the next month then, each member of the band spent time dealing with personal
matters. Book, for example, finally got the time he wanted to learn spells. Nero and
Nicholas were able to read the books they got from White Plume Mountain which helped
them to improve themselves mentally and physically. Nero also acquired a wand of
ward dispelling from Conrad, which he had commissioned before their quest to White
Plume. Alavarius acquired a large sum of lead which he transformed into gold using the
philosopher’s stone. Ael spent much of his time in the studies of alchemy. Kieranen
began working with Derider Fanshen, the Constable of Greyhawk, helping her with the
organizing and training of guards and doing a series of high priority assignments. During
this time, it also became obvious that the hammer Whelm was having an adverse effect on
Nicholas who, much like a dwarf might, for which the hammer was originally intended,
developed a fear of wide open spaces.

While all of this was happening, news filtered into Greyhawk of things that were
happening elsewhere in the Flanaess. The Plague of the Red Death continued to spread
throughout the lands, as a band called the Chosen tried to halt the disease and find a cure.
A band called the Destined attacked the Slave Lords of the Wild Coast. And perhaps more
important to the Righteous Vanguard, a band called the World Walkers had attacked a
series of giant strongholds in the Crystalmist Mountains, where the Righteous Vanguard
had recently encountered and defeated a band of frost giants which was likely on their way
to one of the strongholds. It was also rumored that this was somehow connected to the
giant sphere of darkness that had engulfed the city of Istavin, which was very reminiscent
of the visions seen by the gray elf Telesaran.

Towards the end of the month off from adventuring, on Waterday, the 12th day of
Reaping, Nero was informed by Jawal Severnain, the Librarian at the Guild of Wizardry,
that he could introduce him to a mage by the name of Dumbledor, who could instruct
him on the creation of a homunculus. The following day, Nero met with Dumbledor, who
then discussed with him what would be required. Dumbledor also gave him a list of the
necessary materials needed for constructing the homunculus. With that done, Nero went
to the Temple of Lirr, the Goddess of Prose, Poetry and Art, where he spoke with a cleric
about finding someone who could make a high quality sculpture of a pseudodragon. The
next day, Nero met with an artist by the name of Brom and offered him 40,000 g.p. to do
the sculpture. Brom gladly accepted the offer and was given 1000 g.p. as a deposit for his
services.

The next thing Nero needed to do was gather the necessary materials, the rarest of which
was mandrake root. So he spoke with Nicholas who told him that the only place he knew
of where they could find mandrake root was in the heart of the Dim Forest which was
where Nero had first found Raaze. It was also said to be monster infested. With this being
the case, Nero decided he had better take a few others along with him. Book offered to put
teleport spells in Nero’s and Nicholas’ rings of spell storing. But he was too busy with his
spell studying to accompany them to the Dim Forest. Ael was likewise too busy with his
studies in alchemy. And Kieranen was currently in the middle of an assignment for Derider
Fanshen and could not go.

So, on Starday, the 15th day of Reaping, Nero, along with Nicholas, Dravos, and
Alavarius, teleported to a place that Nicholas was familiar with, just inside the Dim Forest.
Shortly after their arrival in the forest they came across what looked to be a powerful
wizard who suddenly appeared before them and said in a commanding voice, “I am the
great wizard, Maximo! Who dares to enter my forest?” Despite the wizard’s appearance,
there seemed to be something about his behavior that did not quite ring true. There was
also something about him that made him look somewhat ridiculous, as if he was trying way
too hard to impress them. Even the name Maximo sounded a bit silly. Nicholas, in fact,
was not at all impressed by the wizard and immediately paid him no regard.

Then, as the wizard continued to question the band and even began to threaten them
for their lack of respect, some members of the band overheard the laughter of some small
nearby creature. They then began to suspect that the wizard was not real, but rather an
illusion. When it became obvious that this was the case, the illusionary wizard disappeared
and the silhouette of a small giggling creature was spotted hiding behind a tree. Since the
creature was hiding from them, Alavarius cast a clairvoyance spell to get a better look at
it. What he saw was a small imp-like creature. After telling the other members of the band
what he saw, they assumed the creature was certainly mischievous but most likely not a real
threat. So they continued on further into the forest.

A while later the band was attacked by other creatures that they could barely get even a
glance at due to the fact that they moved so quickly. Still, the band was able to kill three
of them which sent the others fleeing. Once they were dead, Nicholas was able to identify
the creatures as quicklings, which are an evil race of fey creatures. Oddly enough, with
their deaths, they heard the familiar sound of a nearby voice letting out an exclamation of
approval, indicating they were probably being followed by the imp-like creature. As Nero
leaned over to take a closer look at one of the dead quicklings, this same voice, which now
came from a nearby tree, asked Nero, “Um, what you lookin’ at?” When Nero turned
towards the voice, he saw nothing. So he cast a see invisibility spell and spotted the imp-
like creature sitting in the tree. But the creature turned and flew away.
Further on into the woods, the band came across a section of forest that looked as
though some creature had weaved the foliage into a kind of maze. When the band took
a look at it and was trying to decide if they should enter the area, the imp-like creature
appeared nearby and told them that he would not advise going into it. The band asked the
creature what was inside and he told them it was a creature he called Sting. When prodded
further, the creature then told them that Sting was a giant tarantula. While talking with the
band, the creature inadvertently let it slip that its name was Maximo, just like the illusionary
wizard they had seen earlier – at least Maximo is what he called himself, regardless of what
its real name was. They asked Maximo if he knew where to find any mandrake root and the
creature offered to guide them to some.

A short while later, Maximo had guided them to a clearing in which grew a cluster of
mandrake root. However, as soon as Nicholas bent over to gather some of the plant, the
nearby forest and ground began to shake, Then suddenly, four colossal sized centipedes
erupted out of the earth and the woods and attacked them. It was a very tough battle and
it took every bit of the band’s skill and magic to defeat them. Even then Nero was very
nearly killed. During the battle however, they were aided by Maximo, who cast spells such
as magic missile and stinking cloud at the giant centipedes.

When the battle was over, and once Alavarius had healed everyone, Nero realized that
Maximo might make a decent familiar and began to consider that possibility rather than the
homunculus he had in mind.

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