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.

View
Part Ten: On the Eve of Dark Clouds – Chapter 5

It was on Godsday, the 25th day of Goodmonth, in the Common Year of 580, when the
assassins of the Scarlet Brotherhood, who had been sent to kill Nero, were themselves
killed by the assassins of Greyhawk. That night, with the aid of the assassins of Greyhawk,
Nero faked his death, and the following day, disguised himself and acquired an amulet of
proof against detection and location, thereby assuming the role of Nero’s estate holder,
Diur Daton. Two days later, on Freeday, the 28th day of Goodmonth, an elaborate funeral
service was held for Nero, Book and Ale near Nero’s Tower and within a couple of weeks,
a statue of Nero with a continual flame in its palm was erected nearby.
From that day forward, Nero had entered yet another chapter of his life. Now, as long
as his secret remained hidden from his enemies, Nero could rest easier, knowing that the
Scarlet Brotherhood no longer hunted after him. But it came at a heavy price. With the
permanent loss of two good friends, as well as the loss of a host of connections and allies,
and indeed a way of life, Nero was forced to live the life of his alias, Diur, who looked and
dressed differently and even carried around Ael’s falcata as a part of his disguise. As one
might expect after such an event, life for all the members of the Righteous Vanguard had
changed.
But many of these changes were quite radical and had nothing to do with the loss of
Book, Ael or Nero’s public identity. Since becoming members of the Righteous Vanguard,
each of them had under gone a number of changes and they were now no longer the same
people they were when they joined the group. Nicholas for example, had gained a much
greater strength, but also a diminished intelligence and a case of agoraphobia; Dravos was
now more than twice his original size and had an arm and hand that continually sprouted
a layer of slimy fungus; Kieranen, though his changes were not now as severe, had aged
hundreds of years, which was fortunately reversed, had lost his best friend, the gnome
Gildor and had, as a result, altered his outlook on life; and Alavarius had his lifespan
increased dramatically and acquired the ability to live and breathe underwater. Many of
these changes, of course, were brought about by the Deck of Destines which was found
in the White Plume Mountain. But despite all of this, the Deck of Destinies was still not
through making alterations to the members of the band.
Following the deaths of Book and Ale, as well as some of the assassins, the band had a
number of magic items that needed to be divided up amongst the band, including the five
remaining cards of the Deck of Destinies, which had previously been in the possession
of Book. Once all of the items were divided up, Alavarius, who had selected the Deck of
Destinies, could not resist the temptation of drawing a card.

The card he drew was the Sea card, which was rather ironic considering his powers
underwater, because, as he would later discover through divination spells, it gained him the
enmity of the sea and he would be in danger of being attacked by sea monsters any time
he made a journey across a large body of water. Seeing the deck of cards and having no
will power to resist it, Nero’s familiar Maximo, drew a card while Alavarius wasn’t paying
attention and drew the Skull card, which visibly caused his forehead to swell and increased
his intelligence greatly. Despite his mischievous personality and his lack of experience,
Maximo now became the most intelligent member of the group! Seeing this, Nicholas
decided to draw another card. Unfortunately, he drew the Vampire card, which drained
from him a portion of life energy. Fortunately, this was easily remedied with a restoration
spell. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, and hoping all the bad cards were now gone,
Dravos then drew a card and drew the Black Sword. This card granted Dravos skill and
experience in his chosen line of work. That left only one card, which Alavarius had to pick
up. It was the Crow card, which suddenly caused a permanent pair of black, feathered
wings to sprout from his back! With time, Alavarius would soon learn how to fly with
them, though it meant having to make some alterations in his clothing.
Two months then passed as the Righteous Vanguard dealt with personal matters. Over
time, the members of the band gradually became accustomed to the changes that each of
them had recently experienced, and they slowly settled into a lifestyle that eventually took
on an air of familiarity. But towards the end of Patchwall, their comfortable way of life was
once again interrupted by the call of adventure and the duty and desire to put an end to the
evil machinations of an old enemy of theirs.
Here then begins the tale of a man so hellbent on revenge and the insane lust for power
that he was willing to risk everything, even the life of a trusted family member, to achieve
his goals. And, as the Righteous Vanguard would soon learn firsthand, his mad plan would
very nearly succeed.
It was on Waterday, the 26th day of Patchwall, when the archmage Tenser arrived at
Nero’s Tower with news that he felt certain the band would be interested in. By now,
Tenser had heard about the deaths of Nero, Book and Ael, but also knew that the band
could still be contacted at Nero’s old residence. When meeting with Tenser, Nero tried
to keep his true identity a secret from him and continued to play the part of Diur. But it
did not take long for Nero to slip and inadvertently reveal himself. Tenser however played
along, fully understanding the need or desire to hide one’s identity, since most members of
the Circle of Eight did likewise much of the time.
Tenser then told the band that he had heard reports from certain contacts he had along
the Wild Coast, that the Necromancer Elock and his cousin Tracy Windstrider had very
recently been seen in the town of Badwall, talking about a map they had, which would
supposedly lead them to the nearby hiding place of a lost cult of Nerull. There they hoped
to find an eldritch arcane tome called the Serpin Lexicon.

Unknown to Tenser at the time however, was that Elock had intentionally made his
plans and whereabouts known to Tenser’s contacts, fully expecting and hoping that Tenser
would encourage the Righteous Vanguard to go after them. This part of Elock’s plan
worked to perfection and soon the Righteous Vanguard was preparing to visit the town of
Badwall.
On the following day then, Earthday the 27th, Tenser arrived in the morning at Nero’s
Tower and using his magical mirror, transported the Righteous Vanguard back to the
residence of his henchman Cymria in the village of Magepoint. There they attempted to
scry on Elock but with no success. So Tenser, using his mirror, located an alleyway in the
town of Badwall, which he was familiar with, and opened a portal through which the band
entered the town. From there, Alavarius cast a find the path spell and the band set out
towards the Suss Forest where they expected to find the hiding place of the cult. Once into
the forest, it did not take long for Nicholas to locate the tracks of Elock and Tracy as the
two necromancers made no attempts to hide their tracks. In fact, they had been counting
on their tracks to lead the band right into the trap that they had devised for them.
The Suss Forest, as the band would quickly learn, was a dreary place, full of thorn trees,
brambles, briars, and thickets, which threatened to slow their progress. Its massive trees
were black with age, and seemed to whisper and talk amongst themselves as the band
dared to pass beneath. But despite the evil and oppressive atmosphere of the forest and
the rumors of roving bands of humanoids which were said to make the woods their home,
the band passed through them with nary an encounter, perhaps as the forest’s denizens
somehow sensed that this was not a band of adventurers to be trifled with. Still, it was slow
going through the thick underbrush of the forest, and the band was forced to camp one
night before reaching their goal.
Again, despite the constant sense of creatures lurking all about them, the night passed
by uneventfully and the following day, the band continued on their way. Towards the
end of another long day of trudging through the thick forest, the band finally arrived at
an unusual structure half buried in the under growth. It was a ninety foot diameter dais
seven feet high and covered with lichen and mosses. Around its perimeter were carven
skulls and scenes of sacrifices. Standing atop the dais and near its center was a massive
tree perhaps a hundred feet high, its twisted mass of roots half exposed in the thin layer of
earth that rested atop the dais. While to most members of the band the tree appeared to be an
ordinary, albeit extraordinarily large, tree, like any other in the forest, a few members of the
band, those who remained unaffected by the cloud of spores that issued from it, realized it
was a very large and very dangerous hangman tree. The band looked around the dais and
seeing no entrances along its sides began to climb up onto the dais. Nero then approached
it while using a fly spell and as he did so the tree lashed out and looped one of its many
nooses around him. Fortunately, as Nero had expected, the noose slipped off of him just
as quickly due to his ring of freedom of movement.

Below the tree and just in front of it, the band could see an entrance into the dais. But
realizing that the tree would pose a greater threat to the other members of the band, they
decided to look for other means to access the dungeon complex. Dravos then discovered
a trap door closer to them in front of the tree. So the band summoned an animal and had
it move out over the trap door, thereby springing the trap. The animal fell to its death in
a spear-lined pit thirty feet blow, but the door remained open. So Nicholas climbed down
into the pit and, as he had hoped, found a secret door leading into the dungeon. This
allowed the band to bypass the giant hangman tree and not have to deal with it.
Once inside the dungeon however, the band discovered that it was unusually dark inside,
even with magical light sources. So the band was never able to produce anything more than
a dim light by which to see. Just inside the dungeon they had to negotiate another pit trap
but with an illusory floor, which Dravos almost fell victim to. Here they were presented
with two passageways to choose from, one that led straight to the west and one went
diagonally to the northeast. They chose to go northeast and soon came to two archways
on either side of the passageway. Both of these archways led to bedchambers where little
was left but broken remnants of furniture. Each of these rooms however had small balls of
bubbling white mist.
As the band looked into these rooms however they were attacked by two undead
creatures, one from each room. The first was a powerful ghost that badly spooked two
members of the band who would have run away if not for the quick application of a
remove fear spell. The second was the juju zombie of a highly experienced rogue which
attacked with a sneak attack. Both of these undead were quite deadly and caused the band
a few serious injuries. But the band did not waste any time and used some of their most
powerful magic against them, allowing them to eliminate these threats fairly quickly.
After healing up and looking around a bit, the band moved on to other rooms. They
soon found another larger bedroom with more broken furniture and more glowing balls
of mist in the upper corners. Alavarius determined these balls of mist to be some sort of
scrying devices, which would allow someone to constantly monitor each of these rooms.
In the large bedroom they found a riddle written on the wall which the band never did
come up with the correct answer to. But it did not appear to make any difference. For as
the band looked about, they found other evidence that the two necromancers had already
been there and found the arcane tome called the Serpin Lexicon. In another nearby room
they found a glass case where the book had probably been kept until just recently. They
also found a summoning chamber and another empty room, neither of which contained
anything of real interest or importance.
Eventually the band turned their attention to the passageway that led off to the west. To
the sides of it they found a couple of storage rooms, again with nothing but rotted junk
inside. In one of these rooms they found a pack rat, which distracted them for a short
while as they tried to get it to bring them things of value.

From there they made their way to the end of the passageway where an area of
impenetrable darkness slowed their progress. After doing a bit of probing here, Nero
flew into the darkness and soon emerged in a room on the other side where he could
see. In this room were two rows of niches where prisoners or slaves would presumably
be shackled up. But as soon as Nero emerged from the darkness, he saw hovering in the
center of the room, a floating skull that began to scream, causing some members of the
band to go temporarily deaf. Alavarius cast a silence spell to shut it up and Dravos stepped
up and smashed the skull thereby destroying it. With this done, Alavarius dismissed the
silence spell and everyone gathered in the room where the floating skull had been. Here
also they found a sarcophagus that was mounted to the far wall, and after doing some
investigating, Nicholas found a secret door at the back of the sarcophagus.
Upon opening the secret door, they found a roughly hewn passageway that curved
around to the south and into darkness. At this point the band would have been well
advised to better prepare themselves, for they probably should have realized that the
screaming skull was an alarm device which could have easily been heard by anyone in the
dungeon complex. Since it was unlikely that this alarm was something that was left over
from the cult members who once lived in the complex, as Elock and Tracy surely would
have entered the room by now and destroyed the skull as they had just done, the obvious
conclusion was that the skull had been placed there by Elock and Tracy to warn them of
intruders. This, in fact, was exactly the case, and as soon as the skull first sounded, the two
necromancers began preparing for the band and were ready by the time they arrived.
The band meanwhile, cautiously made their way through the curving tunnel until it
came to a large, dimly lit cavern roughly sixty to seventy feet ride and about twice that in
length. At the center of the cavern stood a familiar looking man with long brown hair,
a medium length beard, a scar running down the left side of his face, and a wild stare in
his eyes. Dressed in the same black robes with a white pattern along the sleeve openings
and holding the same staff made of bone and wrapped in copper wire, the necromancer
grinned with anticipation. Arrayed in front of him were three large troll skeletons, each
engulfed in the familiar blue flames that the band had witnessed more than once before.
“Ah, at last,” the necromancer called out. “I have been anxiously awaiting your arrival.
And now that you are here, I believe it is time we got down to business.”
One of the Righteous Vanguard responded by asking where his cousin Tracy was.
“Do not concern yourselves with her,” Elock answered. “I will have no difficulty in
dealing with you on my own. Now, enough talk! Prepare to meet your doom!”
And with that, Elock began chanting the words of a spell. The Righteous Vanguard,
many of whom still had yet to even make their way around the corner and get a look
at Elock, quickly scrambled to the front and positioned themselves while others cast
defensive and preparatory spells.

Then Elock struck with his first spell, a dispel magic spell. Fortunately, most members
of the band did not lose any magic that would have made a big difference in the battle.
But then, most of them did not have many spells up at all. Following this, Nero blasted
the troll skeletons with a cone of force, but only managed to destroy one of them.
Other members of the band meanwhile cast more defensive spells or otherwise readied
themselves to attack.
Elock’s next wave of attacks was devastating, as he led off with a spell that put most
members of the bad under a curse that greatly hindered their attacks and their ability to
fend off attacks. He quickly followed this with a spell that drained the moisture from all of
them and which was enhanced with necromantic magic. Suddenly all the members of the
band were reeling from the pain and some of them were already on the verge of dropping!
This however was followed by another spell that created a mist around the party which
caused them further harm and left them fatigued. At this point, the two troll skeletons
stepped up and began to attack, though fortunately for the band they rarely ever hit. But to
make matters worse, the creature that everyone thought was Elock, now revealed its true
form, that of a glabrezu, or type III, demon, which, as its first action, cast a mirror image
spell! This indicated that both Elock and Tracy were both actually further back in the cave
and invisible!
At this point, now just a matter of seconds into the battle, some members of the band,
Nero for example, were on the verge of fleeing. Others however, such as Nicholas, still
felt there was hope and urged them to stay and fight. So while some, like Maximo, moved
back to cast more defensive spells, others, like Alavarius, began casting healing spells,
or offensive spells or just moved to attack the trolls. Nicholas, then realizing that it was
imperative that they prevent Elock from casting spells and seeing the distance between
the band and the necromancers, came up with a plan. From his back he grabbed his
hammer of thunderbolts and hurled it to the far end of the cave! The distance was just
right for it to stun both of the necromancers and the demon but have no effect on the
band. So by employing his hammer in this fashion, and having it teleport back to him
every time because of the crystal of returning he had placed on the hammer, he could
dramatically slow down the attacks of the two necromancers. Unfortunately, he could
only hurl the hammer four times, because hurling it a fifth time would leave him utterly
exhausted. This meant that he could only hurl it about once every other round, which left
the necromancers time to act in between. The demon however quickly moved up and out
of range for the stunning of the hammer to affect it.
As this was going on, Alavarius put up a wall of stone to provide cover for some of them
while Maximo put up globe of invulnerability and used his so-called staff of the magi. Nero
then flew about, sometimes using invisibility to help protect him and cast spells at either
the demon or the necromancers whom he still could not see. The demon was hard to affect
however due to its spell resistance.

Occasionally Nero was able to do some harm to the necromancers, but perhaps more
importantly he helped Nicholas to disrupt their spell casting. Still Elock managed to get
a spell off from time to time, which was usually devastating, such as the finger of death
that he hit Kieranen with. Fortunately, Kieranen survived it. But Tracy often had to resort
to using a wand that did minimal harm. Kieranen and Dravos meanwhile, managed to
take down the two remaining trolls. But they were often so badly wounded that they were
forced to do things to save themselves, while Alavarius did his best to heal them up.
As the battle raged on, both Elock and Tracy gradually drew closer to the band. But
by this point, Nicholas had thrown the hammer three times and did not want to have to
throw it a fourth time. Then suddenly, Elock and Tracy became visible as their invisibility
magic expired. Nicholas then moved in closer to attack but as he did so he noticed that
Elock was engulfed in black flames which he knew would cause him harm if he attacked in
hand to hand combat. So instead he threw his hammer Whelm. Nicholas then became the
target of Elock’s vampiric touch spell, followed soon after by a finger of death. Fortunately
he survived these, though just barely. Dravos then moved in to attack Elock and in turn
was attacked by Tracy with her sword and a vampiric touch. Kieranen, meanwhile had
taken down most of the demon’s mirror images by now, but the demon was still largely
untouched.
Then Nicholas stepped up to attack Elock with the hammer of thunderbolts.
Unfortunately, it slipped from his grasp, flew past Elock, and struck Dravos instead,
knocking him unconscious and stunning everyone in the cavern. Once everyone recovered,
the battle resumed and moments later, despite taking damage from Elock’s flames,
Nicholas finally managed to knock Elock down, though he was on the verge of dropping
as well. Alavarius meanwhile continued to run around trying his best to heal up his
companions. Finally Kieranen, who by this point had declared an oath on the demon with
his oathblade, took down the last of the demon’s mirror images and began dealing out
wounds to the demon. Unfortunately, it was not soon enough, as Tracy and the demon
then ganged up on Kieranen and took him down. Seeing this, Alavarius cast a healing spell
on Kieranen and kept him alive, as Nero was forced to retreat a bit and tend to injuries of
his own. Soon after this however, Dravos bled to death.
Then the unthinkable happened. The heart in Elock’s bleeding body finally came to a
stop, and with it came Elock’s long sought after revenge. Unknown to all, even his cousin
Tracy, Elock, in his madness, had previously cast a spell on himself which would cause his
body to explode upon his death. And explode it did, sending bits of bone and flesh flying
apart in a gory eruption of blood. It made little difference that Alavarius was able to save
Kieranen but not Dravos, for the resulting explosion from Elock’s spell killed everyone
and everything near it, even his cousin Tracy and the demon. Only Nero and Maximo had
survived and only because they were not close enough to the explosion.

Soon afterwards though, unknown to all and hidden somewhere deep inside a dark and
secretive chamber, a throaty sigh could be heard. A moment or two passed. Then came
the sound of a deep and satisfying chuckle, which gradually rose into a full out chorus of
maniacal laughter. “…And they call me mad!”, a voice spoke to the darkness.

It would be quite a long time before the clone of Elock would make its presence known
to the world. For Elock had sacrificed a great deal in his quest for revenge. And as far as he
knew, he had succeeded. Divination spells were one of Elock’s opposition schools, which
meant he often had to rely on others for such things. And for a long time, his only attempt
at learning the truth of what took place upon his death told him that all had died in the
explosion except Maximo. He had no qualms with a spellcasting fremlin and as far as he
knew, Nero had died as well. A day or two after the battle he would return to the scene
of the battle to see if anything was left to recover. But he would find nothing, and would
perhaps assume that all had been destroyed in the explosion.

View
Part Ten: On the Eve of Dark Clouds – Chapter 4

It was on Sunday, the 16th day of Goodmonth, in the Common Year of 580, following
an assassination attempt on Nero, when the Righteous Vanguard, hunted down and
killed the majority of the band from the Scarlet Brotherhood at the Hanged Man Inn,
leaving only the master spy known as Seips Foretsam, and his accomplice the mysterious
master assassin. Upon their return to Nero’s tower, they examined those items they had
taken from the monks and assassins at the inn, and found a number of items previously
owned by Ael and Book. Shortly after their return, they were visited by one of the gnomes
from the band’s stronghold who confirmed that the laboratory at Ael’s home had been
destroyed. That night, the non-spellcasters of the band stayed up all night keeping guard
while the spellcasters rested.
The following morning, on Moonday the 17th, the non-spellcasters rested while Alavarius
cast a hallow spell on Nero’s tower as they had previously discussed and then began the
long and arduous task of casting a forbiddance spell on the tower. A short while later,
Derider Fanshen, the Constable of Greyhawk and Nero’s most recent romantic interest,
arrived at Nero’s tower along with a couple of the city’s guards. Naturally the band was
now a bit suspicious of anyone wishing to gain access to Nero’s tower, so they questioned
Derider until they were convinced of her identity. She told the band that she had heard
about the attack at the Hanged Man Inn and asked about that as well as the attempted
assassination on Nero. After the band had answered her questions, she left to continue her
investigations elsewhere.
On the next morning, Godsday the 18th, Alavarius finished casting the forbiddance
spell and got some much needed rest. Then at about 10, Nero, Maximo and Dravos flew
invisibly to the Guild of Wizardry where Nero got the mage Conrad to cast a false vision
spell into his ring of spell storing. A few days passed then uneventfully, while the band
stayed vigilant inside Nero’s tower.
Then on the morning of Starday, the 22nd day of Goodmonth, after several days of
no sign or news of the two assassins, Alavarius cast another commune spell. But it soon
became obvious that both of the assassins were heavily protected against any divination
spells concerning them and very little information was learned through the spell. So the
entire band paid a visit to the River Rat Inn, where Nero hoped to have better success
with a different approach. There, Nero arranged to have another meeting with Danzig, his
contact with the Assassin’s Guild of Greyhawk. The following day at 2 in the afternoon,
the band paid a visit to the Wizard’s Hat Inn, where, as was the usual arrangement, Nero
spoke with Danzig and told him his situation.

He then made an offer to hire the guild to take out the rival assassins from the Scarlet
Brotherhood. Danzig then made a suggestion to Nero that might help to draw out the
Brotherhood’s assassins, but perhaps more importantly, help to insure that the Scarlet
Brotherhood would never again bother him. Danzig’s suggestion was to fake Nero’s death,
making it appear to be the work of the Greyhawk assassins. Nero liked the idea and some
details were sketched out between the two. They then agreed upon a price of 10,000 g.p.
each for the elimination of both assassins, and another 10,000 g.p. for the faking of Nero’s
death. On the following day, at the same time, Nero met up with Danzig again at the
Wizard’s Hat and paid him the full amount of 30,000 g.p.
Later that day, Nero met with Derider at the Grand Citadel and asked her out for a night
on the town, on the following night, including dinner at the exclusive Patrician’s Club,
followed by a show at the Royal Opera House. This was all a part of Nero and Danzig’s
plan. Nero had by this point, decided to terminate his relationship with Derider, in part
because of ugly rumors going around town about Derider dating someone half her age, but
also for more personal reasons. The plan then was to fake Nero’s death while out in a very
public place, which would hopefully add to the credibility of his death.
So, on the evening of Godsday, the 25th day of Goodmonth, Nero took Derider to the
Patrician’s Club and the Royal Opera House, escorted all the way by the other members of
the Righteous Vanguard. It was thought that to allow Nero to go without his companions
at this time would appear suspicious and for his companions to allow Nero to be out of
their sight seemed to be a sure invitation for trouble.
The evening proceeded as one might expect for a night out, but they were not sure when
the fake assassin would strike until they arrived at the Royal Opera House. There, as Nero
was moving through the crowded lobby with Derider on his arm, a man bumped into
Nero and gave him a meaningful look. At the same time, Nero felt a hand briefly brush
against a pocket. Nero then discretely reached into the pocket, and found a note which he
casually glanced at while Derider wasn’t looking. The note simply said that it would happen
immediately after the show on the front steps as they were leaving the Opera House.
But midway through the show, Derider asked Nero to get her a drink from the
concession stand. Nicholas tagged along behind Nero at a distance just to keep an eye out.
Shortly after Nero left the band’s box seats however, Derider claimed she suddenly needed
to go to the lady’s room. So she headed to the lobby where the concession stand was and
met up with Nero as he was on his way back. She then flirted with Nero and acted as if her
real reason for sending Nero to the concession stand was so that she and Nero could sneak
off away from the prying eyes of Nero’s companions, to do some necking. She then coyly
pulled Nero around a corner, out of Nicholas’ direct observation, and put an arm around
Nero, looking as if she was about to kiss him.

Suddenly, there was a blur of movement behind Derider, as an arm reached out from
behind a nearby curtain. A dagger flashed and quickly descended on Derider’s back, and
right before Nero’s eyes, Derider was reduced to a pile of dust! Naturally, Nero was quite
shocked by what he just saw and was on the verge of blasting the darkly dressed assassin
who now stood before him with a spell. But before he could act, the assassin told Nero to
wait and pointed to the ground where a familiar looking dagger once owned by Book now
lay. “Look,” the assassin said emphatically, “she was your spy and she was about to strike.
I am with the guild and we must change our plans. If we are to do this we must do it now.
Quickly, call your companion over here”
Naturally, Nero was not sure if this assassin could be trusted. But something about the
assassin made Nero believe he spoke the truth. So Nero turned, looked around the corner
and yelled for Nicholas to come quickly. When he did, Nero felt something strike him in
the back. But immediately realizing that it caused him no harm and knowing what to do, he
spoke a command word which activated a dimension door spell in his ring of spell storing.
As Nero disappeared, an illusion of him turning to a pile of dust took his place, making it
appear to all around as if Nero had just been assassinated.
Not even Nicholas knew what had just happened and as far as he knew Nero had
actually been turned to dust. So he took off after the assassin who now turned and fled.
Nicholas then chased the assassin down a corridor that ran alongside the audience chamber
of the Opera House and towards the stage. When the assassin reached the stage he quickly
scrambled up a rope that led to the rafters over stage, while Nicholas remained in hot
pursuit.
Meanwhile, back in the lobby, people began screaming at the sight of two piles of dust
mingled with various articles of clothing where two people had been just moments before,
some of these people having witnessed the assassinations first hand. People then began
running into the lobby and the chaos quickly spread throughout the Opera House. When
the assassin ran through the rafters over the stage with Nicholas right behind him, more
people began screaming and pointing their fingers. Apparently by design, it was a very
public display which would hopefully make it appear all the more real.
Unfortunately for the Righteous Vanguard, most of them could not be sure how much
of it was real and how much of it was just an illusion. Those members of the band who
were still in the audience chamber moved quickly into the lobby and began looking around
trying to figure out what had just happened. Alavarius went to the pile of dust where
Derider had been and found the dagger previously owned by Book. So he began looking
through the clothes left behind there. Dravos did the same at the pile of dust where
Nero had been. But he soon discovered that the clothes and the pile of dust were only an
illusion. So realizing that some unknown bystander was probably actively concentrating on
the illusion, he pretended to gather up the clothing so that someone else would not come
along and discover they were only an illusion.

As this was happening, Nicholas finally cornered the assassin at the top of the rafters
but behind some backdrops where no one else could see them. At this point, the assassin
turned to Nicholas and told him he was with the guild and that Nero was unharmed. But
Nicholas still did not trust him and asked the assassin for proof. The assassin could not at
that time give him any proof. So the assassin spoke a command word and suddenly turned
invisible. Nicholas had a see invisibility spell up at the time. But it appeared that his spell
was being hampered by something and he could not locate the assassin. So eventually he
gave up and returned to the lobby.
Meanwhile, back in the lobby, Nero had used his robe of blending to create a disguise,
and had returned to the lobby himself. He then casually went about and very discretely
informed his companions that he was still alive. Soon, several members of the city watch
began showing up and started asking questions. As they were doing this, an elderly-
appearing gentleman, perhaps the individual responsible for the illusion of Nero’s death,
quietly whispered to Kieranen that one of the city watch members was actually the master
assassin and indicated which one. Kieranen discretely informed his companions and they
watched as the city guard tried to slip away unobserved.
Nicholas though, used his hat of disguise to change his appearance and began trailing
the guard as he headed away from the Opera House. As Nicholas began to draw near to
the supposed assassin however, he apparently noticed Nicholas, got suspicious, spoke a
command word, and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
As this was happening, Nero suddenly detected someone trying to scry on him.
Immediately, he spoke the word activating the false vision spell in his ring, creating a false
vision of Nero as a pile of dust. Nero was also able to finally get a mental image of the
wizard who was trying to scry on him. As suspected, it appeared to be a member of the
Scarlet Brotherhood and upon seeing the false vision sent to him through his crystal ball,
the wizard looked to be very pleased as though he were absolutely convinced that Nero
was now finally dead.
Although the master assassin got away for the time being and the plan did not go exactly
as they had drawn it out, it did appear to be a success in that the master spy was eliminated
and they had convincingly faked Nero’s death. So it was not long before the Righteous
Vanguard was gathered back at Nero’s tower.
Sometime later, a distraught Derider Fanshen appeared at the tower asking to speak
with the band. Still very suspicious of everything, they let her in the tower, while Nero
hid upstairs in another room. Derider explained to the band that she had been knocked
unconscious just prior to the time when Nero was supposed to come by and take her out
for the night. She had been tied up and locked in a closet while someone else took her
place. She was eventually discovered and released at which point she heard about what had
happened at the Opera House.

Now, like almost everyone else, she was fully convinced that Nero was dead, and none
of the members of the Righteous Vanguard wanted to tell her otherwise, believing that, at
least for the time being, the fewer people that knew the truth, the best.
Early the next day, a delivery boy arrived at Nero’s tower with a message from Danzig.
It said that the third part of his agreement had been completed, meaning that the master
assassin was now dead, and that Danzig wanted to meet with Nero at the Wizard’s Hat
to make him an offer. So, later in the day, with Nero in disguise, the band returned to the
Wizard’s Hat where Nero spoke with Danzig. There, Danzig offered to sell him an amulet
that he acquired off the recently deceased master assassin, whom Danzig called Htaed
Folegna, which of course is Angel of Death spelled backwards. He told Nero that this
amulet would protect him from all divination spells and scrying attempts. Naturally, Nero
wanted very much to buy the amulet and they agreed upon a price of 30,000 g.p. Soon
afterwards, the exchange was made and Nero had his amulet.

View
Part Ten: On the Eve of Dark Clouds – Chapter 3

On Sunday, the 16th day of Goodmonth, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous
Vanguard was spending their second day cooped up inside Nero’s tower when the Scarlet
Brotherhood made their first attempt at assassinating Nero. On the band’s first day inside
Nero’s tower, during which nothing appeared to happen, Alavarius cast a commune spell
and the band was able to learn more about their would-be attackers. But there was still
much that they did not know and early on it appeared as if the second day would pass just
as uneventfully as the first.
But early in the evening, at about 5 o’clock, the Scarlet Brotherhood made their move.
Nicholas and Alavarius at that time had been asleep since about 10 in the morning
and would be waking up in an hour to begin the evening watch. Dravos and Kieranen
meanwhile had gone to bed at 4 in the afternoon to get rested up for their overnight watch.
This left Nero, Ale and Book awake at the time along with Nero’s familiar Maximo, Nero’s
dwarven follower Bleryn, and Nero’s recently acquired hireling librarian Arthur. Ale and
Book were on watch at the time and were therefore on the first floor of the tower along
with Bleryn, while Nero and the others were on the second floor in the library.
Ale entered the library at that time and, in a calm but concerned voice, told Nero there
was something downstairs that he thought Nero should take a look at. Nero, with no
reason to suspect any kind of treachery, followed Ale back down the stairs and as soon as
he reached the bottom suddenly felt the stab of a knife in his back. When he turned to see
who his attacker was, Ael likewise stabbed him in the back! Nero, now in grave danger and
very close to death, let out a yelp and tried desperately to defend himself. But already it
appeared to be too late for him, as the next thrust of a poisoned dagger took him down.
As the two assassins struck however, Nero’s stone golem, which at that time was
stationed nearby on the first floor, suddenly came to life and moved to attack those who
attacked its master. But then two men in dark robes appeared from behind the kitchen
door and attacked the golem. Fortunately, while all of this was happening, Maximo, who
had wandered downstairs just a short distance behind his master and witnessed all that had
taken place, pulled out what he referred to as his Staff of the Magi, but which in reality
was a Rod of Wonder, and spoke the command word as he pointed it at the two assassins.
Much to his and everyone else’s surprise, a rhinoceros suddenly appeared and charged at
the assassins.
While the two monks in dark robes tried to stop the stone golem and the rhinoceros
battled the two assassins, the others upstairs heard the commotion down below and began
rising from their beds and grabbing their weapons.

Maximo meanwhile used his rod again and cast a slow spell on the two assassins while
the stone golem ignored the two monks and went instead after the first assassin. The
golem beat the assassin quite severely and it was clear that the assassin could not take
another pounding like that. So the assassin spoke a command word and disappeared in
a puff of smoke. The second assassin, the one that appeared to be Ael, gulped down a
potion and likewise spoke a command word which rendered him invisible. He then took
off out the front door. With the two assassins now gone, the golem and the rhinoceros
turned on the two monks. One of them went down very quickly, as the other fled out the
back door through the kitchen.
At this point, some of Nero’s companions were just now arriving at the first floor,
trying to take in the situation and understand what was happening. Nero by now had
succumbed to the poison of the assassin’s attacks, but just barely. So Alavarius cast a spell
that miraculously brought him back to life with not a moment to spare. Nicholas, Kieranen
and Dravos meanwhile chased after the fleeing assassin though they could not see him.
Still Nicholas was able to find his tracks which led a short ways into the woods and then
straight for the city gate. But despite all their efforts, including see invisibility spells, they
could not locate the assassin, and once inside the city they knew there was no hope of
finding him.
So, after a while, everyone gathered back at Nero’s tower. There, Alavarius was able to
fully restore Nero back to full health despite the assassins’ handy work. But they could
not find Book, Ael or the dwarf Bleryn. After some time spent looking around however,
they did find a pile of dust outside Nero’s front door, which they suspected was all that
remained of Book. Another pile of dust at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor
appeared to be the remains of Bleryn. As for Ael, Nero put forth the suggestion that he
had been killed on the previous night, right about the time that his laboratory exploded,
and had since then been replaced by one of the assassins who was a master of disguise.
In fact, it now occurred to them that this might be the one they knew as Seips Foretsam,
whose name they now realized spelled backwards was Master of Spies.
After discussing this among themselves, and realizing there was nothing they could do
to bring back their lost companions, Nero suddenly detected someone attempting to scry
on him. He then pulled out the scroll that Otto had given to him with the false vision
spell on it and quickly read it, hoping he could trick the Scarlet Brotherhood into thinking
he was dead. Unfortunately, the spell failed to work as hoped and Nero realized that the
Brotherhood would know that the assassination attempt had also failed.
As this was the subject of further discussion, they made plans to further protect Nero’s
tower with magical wards. Before doing so however, some members of the band were
anxious to try and locate the current whereabouts of the assassins and their fellow
members of the Scarlet Brotherhood.

So, making use of a fly spell and several locate object spells, Alavarius began a
methodical search over the city for an object he knew to be in the Brotherhood’s
possession. Eventually, as he flew over the southernmost portion of the Thieves’ Quarter,
Alavarius found what he was looking for inside the Hanged Man Inn, a known gathering
spot for all the thieves, assassins, cutthroats and river scum who passed through or made
their homes in the Free City of Greyhawk.
It was about 8 o’clock in the evening when the Righteous Vanguard once again used
magic to look in upon the rooms of the inn where the Scarlet Brotherhood was now hiding
out. There they saw most if not all of the monks and assassins of this particular gang taking
up three rooms of the inn along with some familiar looking equipment and a well-equipped
disguise kit. After a thorough look around, the band made some quick plans and moved in
to attack. Nero went in first, taking the form of an air elemental, while the others followed
soon after using dimension door spells to catch them by surprise. The plan worked as they
had hoped and with complete surprise all the monks and assassins were quickly taken out
and with little effort. Unfortunately, it was only then that they discovered the two main
assassins, the ones who had almost permanently killed Nero, were not present.
The good news though was all the others were now dead and that the band had
recovered most of the items previously owned by Book and Ael. So, leaving the dead
bodies as they were, the band quickly gathered everything and made a hasty retreat back
to Nero’s tower. The bad news of course, was that two of the Brotherhoods deadliest
assassins were still out there somewhere, now more determined than ever to finish the job.

View
Part Ten: On the Eve of Dark Clouds – Chapter 2

It was on Starday, the 15th day of Reaping, in the Common Year of 580, when Nero,
Nicholas, Dravos and Alavarius returned to the Dim Forest where they met the fremlin
who called himself Maximo the Great. Their objective in the forest was to find some
mandrake root which Nero intended to use in the construction of a homunculus, which
would replace his recently deceased familiar Raaze. But after encountering Maximo, Nero
decided that Maximo would make a better choice and asked him if he would be willing
to become his familiar. Since Maximo had long since lost his previous master, who had
originally taught him magic, and it would appear to be to his benefit, Maximo gladly
accepted the offer. So the four members of the Righteous Vanguard, along with Maximo,
soon afterwards used the teleport spell stored in Nero’s ring, and returned to their homes
in Greyhawk.

The following day, Nero performed the necessary ritual to make Maximo his familiar
and showed him around his tower. And although it would not become his familiar, Nero
went ahead with his plans to create the homunculus in the likeness of Raaze, both to honor
his lost familiar and to serve as a guardian and helper around his home. With this in mind,
he met up with the artist Brom, delivered to him the mandrake root and other needed
materials, paid him the remaining sum of 40,000 gp, and made sure that Brom understood
the necessary requirements for the sculpting of the homunculus.

Other members of the band, meanwhile, resumed projects of their own. Nicholas, for
example, continued to work with the gnomes in clearing out their underground stronghold
and fortifying it with support beams, while at the same time, having the wizard Conrad
create for him a system of magically created daylight within the stronghold, which could
sustain an underground forest. He then got a druid friend of his from the Gnarley Forest
to cast a few plant growth spells within the stronghold to create his forest.
Ael, meanwhile, built a cabin, complete with an alchemy lab, in the woods above the
stronghold where a magical elevator from the stronghold led up into. Dravos oversaw the
construction of a shrine for travelers to stay at about a day’s walk from Greyhawk along
the road to Dyvers. Alavarius spent much of his time doing research in a number of fields
of interest. Book continued to study magic at Nero’s tower. And Kieranen continued to
work with Derider Fanshen, the Constable of Greyhawk, on a number of unsolved crimes
in the city. Nero also at this time, began taking an interest of a more personal nature in
Derider and the two of them began dating. But just a couple of days after their return from
the Dim Forest, Nero suddenly found himself with other, more urgent concerns on his
mind.

One night, late in the evening, Nero detected someone attempting to scry on him. Nero
quickly cast a nondetection spell on himself and with the aid of his detect scrying spell,
tried to determine who it was, though he was unsuccessful. The next day, Godsday, the
18th day of Reaping, Nero spoke with Alavarius about it and had him cast a divination
spell to get some advice. The divination spell advised Alavarius to commune with his god
Boccob and try to learn what they could about who tried to scry on Nero. This they did
and discovered that, at long last, the Scarlet Brotherhood had caught up with Nero and
apparently intended to assassinate him. This all came about because when he was just a
young boy, Nero’s parents, who were of a noble Suel bloodline and living in the Sheldomar
Valley of the County of Ulek, had been assassinated by the Scarlet Brotherhood to serve
as an example of what happens to pure Suloise who mingle with the other inferior races of
the land. Nero’s uncle was also apparently assassinated sometime later, but Nero managed
to escape and fled to the Wild Coast. Now, many years later, it seemed that with Nero’s
fame as a member of the Righteous Vanguard in the city of Greyhawk, the legacy of his
ancestry had come back to haunt him. During the commune spell, Nero learned however,
that he would have at least two weeks before the Scarlet Brotherhood would make any
attempt on his life. So Nero began to make plans.

He spoke with his companions, Sturtevant the Greyhawk dragon, Derider Fanshen, and
even Otto of the Circle of Eight, asking their advice, and got a number of suggestions. One
of these was to try and research a spell that would conceal Nero from any scrying attempts
on him with no or very little chance of error. Alavarius and Book volunteered to work
together on this and began immediately. There were a few other ideas put into motion as
well. But for the most part, it looked to Nero as if he would just have to wait and see what
happened while being as cautious as possible.

Two weeks then passed, and during this time, nothing happened and nothing new was
learned. So on the 4th day of Goodmonth, Nero went to the River Rat inn in the River
Quarter and spoke with the proprietor, Zalkan Sooth about arranging a meeting with
Danzig, his contact to the Assassin’s Guild. The following day, just as they had done on
their first encounter almost a year before, Nero met with Danzig at the Wizard’s Hat Inn.
There Nero asked Danzig about any rumors of the Scarlet Brotherhood being in town
and explained to him his situation. Danzig told him that he did not currently have any
information on the matter but said he would ask around and inform Nero if anything came
up. Almost a week then passed.

Then on the 10th day of Goodmonth, a letter was delivered to Nero’s tower. It was from
Danzig and it described some activity that had recently been occurring in the Thieves’
Quarter, which Danzig thought might have some connection to the Scarlet Brotherhood.
It gave the location of a building which had recently been occupied by a group of
mysterious men who dressed in black, practiced martial arts, and generally skulked about at
odd hours.

The next day, Nero and several of his companions went to do some research on this
particular building. With the aid of Derider they were granted access to the hall of records
where they learned that the building was once an old boarding house which was sold
about a week before to a man named Seips Foretsam who claimed to be a merchant of
fine jewelry and rented a stall at the Low Market in the Artisans’ Quarter. They then went
to the Low Market to see if they could find this merchant. But after doing some looking
around and asking a few questions, they learned that Seips usually only opened his stall
on Freedays when the marketplace was busiest. Since it was currently Godsday, they
would have to come back in three days to meet with Seips at his stall. So Nero and his
companions returned to their homes and waited three days.

When Freeday finally came on the 14th day of Goodmonth, Nero, Dravos, and Alavarius
paid another visit to the Low Market where they met and spoke with Seips. Alavarius came
with him and used a couple of divination spells to try and read Seips’ mind and learn what
he could of the man while Nero pretended to have an interest in his wares. Seips turned
out to be a very good and even convincing salesman, but it was obvious to Alavarius that
his so-called “fine jewelry” was cheap imitation jewelry and had no real value despite the
inaccurate claims about its origins. Seips also appeared to be pure Suloise like the members
of the Scarlet Brotherhood. But beyond that, Alavarius was unable to learn anything more
about him as none of his spells or abilities picked up anything else.

Unable to learn much there, the three then decided to investigate the building where
the mysterious men in black had been observed. While Nero and Dravos stayed back and
watched from a distance, Alavarius, under the cloak of an invisibility spell, snuck up to the
building, cast a clairvoyance spell, and looked around. There he found about eight or nine
men who appeared to be possible monks or assassins just lounging about or engaged in
personal activities.

After Alavarius reported this back to Nero and Dravos, Dravos wanted to sneak inside
the building and do some more reconnaissance. So Dravos, who was now also invisible,
stealthily crept over to the building and, using his dimensional hopping ability, teleported
past the side door and entered the kitchen of the building. From there he used this same
ability and his stealth to move about the building and observe what he could. Eventually
he made it to the second floor and started looking into the rooms there. But that is when
Dravos ran into some trouble.

In the second bedroom that he teleported into, there was a monk who had been sitting
on the floor apparently in meditation, and Dravos bumped into him. Immediately the man
jumped up, assumed a defensive stance and called out for help. Dravos attacked him with
obvious surprise on his side and the monk fought back. But it was a very brief fight as
Dravos appeared to have killed the monk. With this done, Dravos barred the door, which
was also locked, and quickly took from the monk’s body anything that looked to be of any
value or importance.

Then, while the monk’s allies were pounding on the door trying to get in, Dravos
teleported to the third and final adjacent room where he grabbed a locked chest and
teleported outside the building. Soon afterwards, he met up with his two companions and
they quickly exited the city. From there, they carried all that Dravos had taken from the
building back to Nero’s tower, where Dravos explained to them all that he had seen and
everything that took place.

An examination inside the chest and of those items taken from the monk revealed a few
minor magic items, some clothing and two kinds of poison, but very little in the form of
information. With this done, it was well after sundown. So the three called it a day and
they, along with Book and the rest of Nero’s underlings, spent the night in Nero’s tower,
making sure to remain alert throughout the night.

The next day, they summoned the rest of the band, Kieranen, Nicholas and Ael, to
Nero’s tower and let them know what had happened. Assuming that these men were,
indeed, members of the Scarlet Brotherhood and realizing that they knew that the band
was now aware of them, they also suspected that Nero and quite possibly every member of
the band was now also in danger. So it was agreed that they would all stay at Nero’s tower
until something came up. Nicholas at this point, had now finished with his underground
forest and was free to do other things. Ael had just the night before blown up much of his
lab with one of his alchemical experiments and was ready for a change. And Kieranen was
likewise able to put aside his current duties to help with his friend’s more urgent problem.
Unfortunately, Book, despite the occasional assistance from Alavarius, had yet to be
successful in researching a more powerful version of the nondetection spell. So he
continued to work on this. The others meanwhile, discussed other options while they
waited out the day. But towards the end of the day, during which nothing occurred, they
decided to have Alavarius cast another commune spell. This they did and were able to
gather some more information.

View
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.

View
Part Nine: The Sorcerer’s Citadel – Chapter 5 – Epilogue

On the morning of Sunday, the 16th day of Wealsun, in the Common Year of 580, the
Righteous Vanguard entered the Tower of the Sorcerer Crane deep in the midst of the
Crystal Mist Mountains. Kieranen and Nero had had quest spells placed on them by the
grey elf Telesaran of the Kingdom of Celene, which required them to go to the sorcerer’s
tower. Telesaran, a High Priest of Labelas Enoreth, had placed the quest spell on the two, in
exchange for restoring Kieranen’s youth to him, following an ill-fated turning of a card, a
week before, from the deck of destinies found in the heart of White Plume Mountain.
As already stated in this history, Telesaran told Kieranen and Nero that he recently had
a vision and saw a glimpse into what he interpreted as being a possible future. Subsequent
divination spells that he cast seemed to confirm his suspicions. He told the two that in this
vision, there was a force of great evil that was currently seeking out an item of tremendous
power which was capable of much devastation and destruction. He told them that their
quest would be to destroy this item of power before it fell into the hands of the evil force.
Telesaran also told the two that in his vision he saw what could result if this item of power
were to be used by the evil force, saying that cities and forests could be destroyed by the
power of this item. He described this item as a sphere of utter darkness which would
literally consume all that came into contact with it. He then went on to tell them where
they could find this sphere and that it had previously been owned by the sorcerer Crane.
Finally, he gave them a rod of cancellation, telling them it could be used to destroy the item of
power, and sent the two on their way.

By midday, on Moonday, the 17th day of Wealsun, the band had collected and assembled
the four parts of a medallion that they assumed would allow them access into the central
chamber where they hoped to find the item of great power, which they now knew to be
an artifact called a sphere of annihilation. Unfortunately by this point, they had also lost their
companion, Book, who apparently fell victim to a teleportation trap and had so far not yet
been located. Nero, the band’s only other arcane spellcaster, was also nearly out of spells
because he had previously been trapped in a magical mirror while his companions were
resting. An augury spell cast by Alavarius seemed to indicate that it might be best to allow
Nero the time to rest and regain spells. So the band held up where they were and spent the
next several hours resting.
It was at about this time that Nero cast a scrying spell and found Book though he could
not precisely determine his location. It seemed as if Book was making his way through a
cave somewhere and an opening up above him shined a reddish light down upon him from
what appeared to be a crimson sky. It was quite possible the he was even on another plane.

Several hours later, when Nero was rested and ready to proceed, the band prepared
themselves for a tough battle as the spellcasters cast a number of preparatory spells. Then
they moved to the nearest door with the familiar symbol and runes upon it. They spoke the
command word, which caused the runes, the symbol and the medallion to glow blue. But
when they placed the medallion into the symbol, as a previous divination spell had indicated
to do, they were suddenly struck with a wracking pain that coursed through their bodies.
Several members of the band made the attempt on several of the doors, each time with the
same disappointing and frustrating results. Thinking that the medallion would only work
on one of the doors, they hit each of these one by one. Eventually, they came to the last
rune-marked door, which was in the mirrored hallway, and finally the medallion worked
as they had expected. Unfortunately, by this point, some of the band’s spells had already
expired or were on the verge of expiring, and some members of the band had needed
healing.

When the medallion was inserted into the symbol of the correct door, the door ignited
with a searing blue light, and its shape altered, forming a misty archway. The archway
reeked with the stench of sulfur and brimstone. The room beyond appeared to be carved
from living rock, though smoke and haze in the room obscured the band’s vision, making
it difficult to determine the chamber’s dimensions. However, some distance into the room,
there could be seen through the haze a strange glowing cube large enough to contain
several men. And before the cube stood three men dressed in black robes, their faces
hidden in the shadows of hoods. These men immediately turned in the direction of the
band. Then the two outer men moved into the smoke to the left and to the right while the
man in the center moved cautiously towards the band. When the central man drew near
he suddenly announced, “You are not my master!” and quickly altered his form, taking the
shape of a winged devil, bristling with terrible spines with a crown of deadly horns, and
grasping in his clawed hand a wickedly barbed chain. Barely discernable through the thick
smoke it appeared the other two robed men underwent similar transformations.

The highly anticipated final battle then began, and though the Righteous Vanguard was
fully expecting it, the horned devils were quick to act and caught several members of the
band flat-footed. The lead devil in the center struck Kieranen with his chain, stunning
him, while another devil summoned in a group of three barbed devils. Dravos tumbled
past the lead devil and came up behind him to attack from a flanking position, but soon
found himself surrounded by devils and in serious danger. Other members of the band did
what they could to fight off the devils, blasting them with spells and bombs, while some
launched a barrage of missile weapons. Many of these attacks however did little if any harm
to the devils which, in turn, fought back with spells of their own, some of which likewise
had little to no effect on the band members. Realizing that their physical attacks were
much more effective, the devils then switched to using their weapons, claws and other
natural attacks and soon were inflicting serious injuries to the band.

In addition to the stunning effects of the horned devils’ chains, their tails caused infernal
wounds that continued to bleed heavily after each hit. The barbed devils, on the other
hand, were difficult to strike in close combat due to the barbs on them which would injure
anyone who simply got too close to the devils. It soon became clear that if the band did
not find another tactic to alter the course of the battle, they would all be in a very dire
situation. Dravos in fact, as was very often the case for him, was by this point on the verge
of dropping at any moment.

But Nero then came up with an idea that he hoped might be the answer to their
desperate predicament. Taking the form of an air elemental, he moved to the far side of
the chamber near the glowing cube and inside the glowing cube, he found what he had
hoped to find – the sphere of annihilation. Using the talisman of the sphere to aid him, he took
control of the sphere and moved it towards the side of the glowing cube. As expected, the
cube disappeared, sucked into the sphere as soon as it touched the side. Nero then directed
the sphere towards one of the devils which had followed him over to the cube. Just like the
cube, the devil vanished as soon as the sphere touched it. Then one by one, Nero did the
same to most of the remaining devils in the room while his companions held them off and
even managed to kill a couple of the devils without the assistance of Nero. Still, it was a
tough battle and once again, Alavarius had to come to the aid of Dravos, barely managing
to stop his bleeding wounds and heal him just seconds before he was about to die.
When the battle was over, the band, Alavarius in particular, tended to the rest of their
injuries while others looked about the room for any other treasure. Other than the meager
possessions found on one of the original devils, the others having vanished without a trace,
there was no other treasure to be found.

Nero then, much to the surprise of many of his companions, took the opportunity to
question Nicholas on a matter that he had apparently been mulling over during the past
couple of days. Nero had obviously been concerned about Nicholas’ recent behavior and
thought that the hammer Whelm might be exerting an unwelcome influence over him. He
asked Nicholas about this and pointed out his use of the hammer of thunderbolts which caused
the avalanche in the battle against the frost giants. Nicholas agreed that in that particular
instance, his use of the hammer in that manner may have been a mistake, but tried to
assure Nero that the hammer Whelm had nothing to do with it. Nicholas also pointed out
that Nero had made similar mistakes in the past with his reckless use of magic, more than
once, which had caused harm to his companions, and he argued that anyone was capable
of making mistakes – it didn’t mean that they were being influenced by some outside
entity. But Nero remained unconvinced and went on to point out Nicholas’ odd behavior
when they arrived at the Sorcerer’s Tower where Nicholas could not wait outside any
longer and hurriedly moved inside the tunnel – almost as if he had a fear of being outside.
He even brought up some concern about the possibility of Nicholas attacking Dravos due
to his large size, a concern that Dravos apparently shared with Nero.

But Nicholas, as one might expect, denied any displays of odd behavior and pointed out
the fact that Whelm was only interested in slaying giants and their kin, neither of which
applied to Dravos. Still, the debate between Nero and Nicholas went on for some time,
while others such as Kieranen offered their opinions to try and bring the debate to an
agreeable resolution. Gradually it became clear to everyone, and Nero eventually pointed it
out himself, that with the sphere of annihilation, they had the perfect opportunity to destroy
the hammer Whelm, which Nero was convinced would at some point cause the band
problems. This was the reason why Nero brought up the subject to begin with, and soon
Nero would destroy the sphere of annihilation and they would then lose an opportunity to
destroy the artifact Whelm. Some members of the band saw the reasoning behind Nero’s
fears and may have even agreed that the hammer Whelm might someday cause problems.
But nevertheless, they generally agreed that it would be wrong to destroy the item now
for fear of something it might do in the future. So in the end it was decided that Nicholas
would be allowed to keep the hammer Whelm – and only time would tell if it would be the
right decision.

With this matter now resolved, Nero turned to the matter of completing the object of
their quest – the destruction of the sphere of annihilation. First however, he thought it best
to destroy the item that helped to control the sphere, the talisman of the sphere. This he did
by simply tossing the talisman into the sphere, which instantly consumed the talisman like
it did everything else. Then, without giving it much thought, Nero pulled out the rod of
cancellation that Telesaran had given to him, and touched it to the sphere. This however,
turned out to be a huge mistake. The instant the rod touched the sphere, a tremendous
explosion occurred, blasting everything and everyone within sixty feet of it with an
awesome display of power!

When the smoke finally cleared and those who were still able to looked around, they saw
that some of their companions now lay unconscious and were on the verge of dying, while
they themselves were critically injured and Nero’s familiar Raaze had been blown to tiny
bits. Fortunately, Alavarius had plenty of healing magic and was able to heal everyone up.
But there was nothing that could be done for Raaze. And as a result of losing his familiar,
Nero likewise suffered both physically and mentally and would not be the same until he
could find a familiar to replace her.

But despite the outcome, grim as it may have been, at least the quest was completed and
the band could return to their homes. Unfortunately, they were now presented with yet
another problem. Since Book was no longer with the band and Nero was currently reduced
in power, the band, at this point, had no ability to teleport. This meant a very long trek
through unfamiliar mountains and across vast distances beyond, which would require many
weeks, possibly months of travel before they could return to Greyhawk.

With this thought in mind, the band decided to spend the night in the tower, and in the
morning, stock up on provisions and set out on their long journey through the mountains.
So the following morning, on Godsday, the 18th day of Wealsun, the Righteous Vanguard
left the Sorcerer’s Tower. They did not make it far from the tower, however, before an
unexpected danger presented itself. Before setting out on this quest, they had been told
that a force of great evil was currently seeking the sphere of annihilation that lay within the
tower, and all through their exploration of the tower, and the dungeons that lay beneath,
they had kept this bit of knowledge in mind and were constantly on the lookout for signs
of this mysterious force of evil. Nowhere though, did they find any signs. But as they were
leaving the tower, it appeared that this source of great evil had now found them.
As before, the vale that surrounded the Sorcerer’s Tower was cloaked in a perpetual
cloud of fog and visibility was limited. Out of the mists appeared a figure, a dark silhouette
that intentionally moved across the path that the band was following. The figure called out
to them in a voice that rang familiar, though difficult to place.

“Once again it appears you have found it necessary to interfere with my plans,” the man
said. “Tell me, did you find the orb of darkness and if so, does it still exist?”
As the figure slowly approached, the band was able to see more clearly who came before
them. He was an olive-skinned Oeridian with long brown hair and a medium length beard,
dressed in black robes with a white pattern along the sleeve openings. He had a wild stare
in his eyes and a scar along the left side of his face and in his right hand he grasped a staff
made of bone which was wrapped in copper wire. Seeing this, it only took a moment
for the band to recognize Elock the Necromancer, who was one of the so-called Six
Necromancers that the band had battled in the Valley of the Mage about two months
before. In their final battle, only Elock and his cousin Tracy Windstrider had managed to
escape, while the other four members of the group were killed.

Despite this fact, the Righteous Vanguard, now seeing their old enemy standing before
them, was surprisingly nonchalant about the encounter, and displayed no obvious desire
to attack him. In fact, they answered his question, telling him that they had destroyed the
sphere of annihilation and that if he did not believe them, he was welcome to go and take a
look for himself. Elock then, perhaps confused by the unexpected civility towards him and
suspecting a trap of some kind, began to cast a spell. Only then did the band react with
aggression and Nero proved to be quicker. He blasted the necromancer with one of his
signature cones of force and much to everyone’s surprise, not only was the necromancer
thrown off his feet, but he was torn to pieces.

Amazed at how easily Elock was destroyed, the band was at first thrilled and relieved,
but then gradually suspected it was too easy. They then took a closer look and discovered
that Nero had not destroyed Elock, but rather an undead duplicate made to mimic the
necromancer. Moments later, they heard the eerie laughter of Elock which drifted to them
through the fog on a slight breeze from some distant and unknown location.

View
Part Nine: The Sorcerer’s Citadel – Chapter 4

It was on the morning of Sunday, the 16th day of Wealsun, in the Common Year of
580, when the Righteous Vanguard entered the Tower of the Sorcerer Crane, and by that
evening they had lost both Book and Nero, and Ael had gone insane. Alavarius cast a heal
spell on Ael and was able to restore his sanity. But, for the time being, they were uncertain
how to rescue Book and Nero or even if they could be rescued. So with the band in
disarray and the remaining spellcasters low on spells, they decided to rest for a time and let
them regain spells. With this in mind, they retreated back to the room where the animated
sword had been, and seeing that the poisonous cloud of gas had dissipated, they stopped
there to rest feeling that it was a fairly defensible room. They kept someone on watch at
all times but there appeared to be no need for it, as they were able to rest throughout the
entire night with no disturbance.

On the following morning, Moonday, the 17th day of Wealsun, after the spellcasters had
regained spells, including several divination spells, the band was ready to proceed. Believing
they had an idea on how to rescue Nero, they returned to the corridor with all the mirrors.
There, Alavarius cast an augury spell and found that it would be a good idea to break the
mirror above where Nero had disappeared. So Dravos reached up and smashed the mirror
and when he did so, several things suddenly appeared around them. One of these things
was Nero, who then realized he had been held in suspended animation within the mirror.
The other things were other creatures that had also been trapped within the mirror and
they included two wraiths, a black pudding, and an insane evil wizard, Meldeth of the
Violet Brotherhood. Naturally, the two wraiths and the black pudding attacked as soon as
they were released. But Nero called out to the wizard not to attack and at first it appeared
as though the wizard would not, which allowed them to focus on defeating the monsters.
But the wizard, who was clearly insane, then cast a confusion spell on the band. Immediately
following this, Nero cast a feeblemind spell on the wizard, thus rendering him harmless, and
then cast a dispel magic spell on the band, thereby removing the effects of the confusion spell.
When the battle was over, they took notice of another wizard who had also been trapped
within the mirror, by the name of Toth A’karon. He however had apparently been fatally
poisoned before being trapped inside the mirror and remained alive only long enough
to hand Ael the second piece of the medallion before dying. When Kieranen realized
that the feebleminded wizard Meldeth was a member of the evil Violet Brotherhood, he
decapitated him and left his body to rot in the passageway. The band did however gather a
few magic items found on the wizard.

It was at this point when they noticed that the symbols and runes that had been on the
door at the end of the passageway, but which had disappeared about 12 hours before, had
now reappeared. But assuming that they would not be able to get past the door before
completing the medallion, they decided to look elsewhere first. One place they thought to
look was in the room where all the glass shards had been hung from the ceiling. This room
was filled with acrid smoke earlier and they could not easily search for secret doors because
of it. But the smoke had since dissipated and they decided to take a look. This proved to
be helpful as they then discovered a secret trapdoor in the ceiling. Dravos climbed up into
the passageway beyond the trapdoor and found that it led to a small room, where the band
then discovered a silver pedestal on which rested a red-crystal staff. Upon examining the
staff, Nero found that it had a very specialized purpose of creating a bridge in an anti-
magic area. This made the band consider returning to the cave with the anti-magic stream.
There was also a short passageway leading from this room to another door that was
identical to the ones with the symbol and runes in it. But again, they felt they would not be
able to open it. So the band at this point was divided between returning to the cave with
the anti-magic stream, and the zigzagging corridor with the madness inducing mist. They
took a vote and decided to return to the cave first.

Here Nero was able to use the staff and create a bridge over the stream. They also found
that after crossing over the bridge and moving beyond the anti-magic area, that their magic
items worked as they normally would. But from there, they were unsure where to go. So
Alavarius cast a divination spell and learned that they would need to look inside the pool
of poisonous red-brown liquid in front of the 20-armed statue. However, since the statue
would only allow Alavarius and Dravos to get near without issuing a warning, they had to
do all the work. Eventually though, they were able to fish out of the pool, which was about
two feet deep, the third piece of the medallion. Afterwards, another search about the cave
revealed nothing more. So they returned to the zigzagging passageway.

Suspecting that only Kieranen could enter the red-colored, spongy passageway without
harm, thanks to his necklace of adaptation, he scouted ahead while his companions stayed well
away from the red gas that filled the corridor as Kieranen moved through it. After about
half a dozen quick turns, the passageway finally ended in a more ordinary passageway,
where small pools of bubbling blue-green liquid dotted the floor. Believing this area to be
relatively safe, Kieranen returned to his companions and, once again using Nero’s portable
hole as a mode of transportation, everyone else climbed into it. Kieranen then took the
hole and his companions through the zigzagging passageway and opened up the extra-
dimensional space to let everyone out. With everyone now safely beyond the zigzagging
passageway, they began to examine the rest of the passageway beyond. Here they could see
small channels that fed the blue-green liquid to the pools. And looking further down the
passageway, they saw the liquid seemingly bleeding from a set of double doors with strange
writing and a bas-relief carving of a scepter.

Next to the doors was an empty sconce on the wall just large enough to receive an object
of a size similar to the bas-relief scepter. The band began examining the strange liquid in
the pools and thinking that there just might be something like a scepter in one of the pools,
they used a pole to feel around the bottom of the pools. But the pools were eight feet
deep, and while fishing around with the pole, Kieranen accidentally let a drop of the liquid
touch him. This liquid, which was highly magical, was so powerful that it made Kieranen
faint. Alavarius was able to revive him with a couple of spells however and the band tried
to come up with a safer way of examining the pools. Alavarius then cast another divination
spell and determined that they should only look in the last pool nearest the double doors.
So the band moved up to the last pool and here Nero cast a spell on himself to improve
his dexterity. He was then able to fish the scepter, as the band had suspected, out of the
pool. They washed the scepter off and placed it in the sconce and when they did so, the
double doors opened up revealing the next room.

This diamond-shaped room had only a square, leather-covered platform about one foot
high in its center and a door to the right. After examining the leather cover, they pulled it
off to reveal a small pit about 5 feet deep resembling a sunken bathing pool but empty of
water. Thinking that something might happen if they put water into it, Ael pulled out his
decanter of endless water and filled up about a third of the pit. But nothing happened. So they
looked around the room and inside the pit for any secret doors. Eventually they discovered
a small secret door at the bottom of the pit, now under water. They opened up this door
to find a small compartment with a mahogany box inside. They pulled the box out and
opened it. Inside the box they found the fourth and final piece of the medallion.

After putting the medallion together, they examined the door to the right. It opened on
to a short passageway, at the end of which they found another door with the same symbols
and runes on it that they had seen before on other doors. Taking a look at the map of the
complex, which Nicholas was drawing, it was clear that all of these doors were leading
into the same general area from different directions. Seeing this, and realizing they now
had the completed medallion, which appeared to be the key to entering this area, the band
wondered if they were about to come face to face with the object of their quest and quite
possibly its final traps and guardians. Believing this might be the case, and aware that Nero
was now out of spells, since he was not allowed to rest when his companions did the last
time, Alavarius cast an augury spell to see if it would be advisable for them to continue on
at this point. The answer that he received was that it would not be advisable. So the band
decided to stop and rest one more time before attempting to open any of the doors with
the symbol and runes on them.

View
Part Nine: The Sorcerer's Citadel - Chapter 3

On Sunday, the 16th day of Wealsun, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard entered the Tower of the Sorcerer Crane, though not before losing the Enchanter Book, who mysteriously vanished apparently as the result of a magical trap. By midday, they had made it to the third level of the tower, but so far had found no clue as to Book’s whereabouts.

After thoroughly searching the third level of the tower and gathering all that they wanted to there, the band moved on to the fourth level, which, like the others, was accessed through a trapdoor at the top of a spiral staircase, but unlike the others, was locked. After picking the lock, the band entered what appeared to be Crane’s bedroom, which was decorated with lavish furniture, including a curtained and canopied bed and a table upon which sat many potted plants. The room smelled of flowers and upon the bed rested a beautiful woman in a fine red silken robe. The woman asked the band who they were and what their purpose was, and after receiving an answer she introduced herself as Melissa, a one-time consort of the Sorcerer Crane and now a prisoner of the tower. Dravos checked her alignment and detected it as being lawful neutral. This fact and Melissa’s attitude that she seemed somewhat doubtful that the band was capable of rescuing her, threw the band off their guard initially and the band showed no signs of any distrust towards her.

However, after a minute or two of discussion with Melissa, some members of the band began to see odd little creatures appearing around them and believed they were suddenly being attacked. When this happened, Melissa threw a rope at Dravos, which entangled him, and drew out a bow from behind her bed and began firing at the band. Some members of the band then focused on fighting off the small creatures, which turned out to be figments of their imagination caused by the pollen of the blue lotus flowers, while others turned on Melissa. Melissa, who was later to be revealed as an Erinyes Devil, summoned in two Bearded Devils, which also had to be dealt with, then cast a spell on Nicholas causing him to attack anything that came near him including his companions. Eventually the tide of the battle turned against Melissa and she was forced to cast a fear spell, which sent a couple members of the band running back downstairs. But soon after, all the devils were defeated, including Melissa, and the battle shifted to the floors below, where Nicholas, still under the influence of Melissa’s spell, continued to attack his companions. Nicholas caused a great deal of damage at this point and Dravos very nearly died due in large part to the severely bleeding wounds he had received from the devils. Only at the very last possible second was Alavarius able to bring him back from the brink of death. Finally, it occurred to Nero to dispel the magic on Nicholas and bring the battle to an end.

When the battle was over, Alavarius spent time healing the injuries of his companions and the band resumed their investigation of the tower. After searching the fourth level and gathering any items they wished to take with them, they continued on to the fifth door, which was also accessed through a locked trap door. This level was unlike the others in that it was shaped like a pyramid and was void of any furniture or other objects. But here the band discovered a secret door which led to a small room where they detected magic. After some consideration, the band decided to enter the room which teleported everyone to another place that the band presumed to be somewhere below the tower.

From here, the band found their way past a magically sealed door, which led to a corridor. This corridor led to a room with two doors and two statues of panthers. As they had expected, when they tried to open one of the doors, the statues animated and attacked. These statues were not difficult to defeat however and soon the band was investigating beyond the doors. The door that led to the south opened up into a room where an animated sword floated in midair. Not wanting to deal with this just yet, they decided to look beyond the door to the west. It led to a short hallway and a room beyond where thousands of shards of glass were suspended by threads. Nero thought he would easily thwart the obviously trapped room by tossing a fireball into the room, which destroyed the glass shards but caused the room to be filled with acrid smoke that threatened to blind anyone entering the room and cause breathing problems.

So, taking certain precautions against the smoke, Kieranen and Ael passed through the room to investigate a passageway on the far side. The passageway led to a door beyond which they found any oddly shaped room with a pile of daggers, swords and other sharp objects at its center. As soon as one of them started to enter the room, a whirlwind sprang up above the pile of weapons and began swirling them about. Seeing that the whirlwind of blades then started to approach them, and appeared to have some form of intelligence, the two retreated back to their companions so that they could discuss a plan of action.

It was then decided that Ael would use his brazier of fire elemental summoning to summon a fire elemental to combat the whirlwind of blades. So, Kieranen, who was immune to the acrid smoke, thanks to his magic necklace, escorted Ael back to the room. Then, while Kieranen escorted the other members of the band one at a time to the room, Ael summoned the elemental which soon began battling the whirlwind of blades. As the various members of the band gradually arrived, a few of them aided the fire elemental. But as it turned out, the fire elemental was able to defeat the whirlwind fairly easily as the whirlwind continually faltered in its attacks. When the fight was over, the elemental was dismissed and the band looked about the room.

They found a door that led to a passageway lined with mirrors on the walls and ceiling at the end of which was another door with a large symbol and runes etched into it. But they decided instead to investigate a secret passageway they found which eventually led to a natural cavern through which flowed a stream of weird, shimmering blue-green liquid.

As the band approached to within 20 feet of the stream, all their magic seamed to wink out, and the spell-casters in the group were able to discern that the blue-green liquid was creating a field of anti-magic around it. The band lit up torches and on the far side of the stream they could see a statue of a 20 armed man with a sword in each hand. The band cautiously forded or jumped over the stream, all except Ael, and moved to investigate the statue and the rest of the cave. Eventually they discovered however, that those who crossed the stream, whether or not they actually entered the stream, were affected as if they had been struck with a mage’s disjunction spell. As a result, some items were permanently destroyed, such as Kieranen’s sword Frostrazor and his Bigby’s Gem of the Circle. They also discovered that anyone except Alavarius or Dravos who approached the statue got a look of warning from the statue as its eyes pulsed a blue light. Before the statue was a pool of red liquid which the band found to be highly poisonous. But the band failed to find anything else noteworthy in the cavern despite a fairly thorough search. So they returned to the hallway of mirrors.

Here Alavarius was able to read the runes on the far door, which he determined to be a command word. After speaking the command word, the runes and the circular symbol above it glowed blue for about a minute and a half, then faded. When the light faded, Ael felt a wave of pain shoot through him. So Kieranen tried it with much the same result except that once the glow faded, the symbol and the runes also disappeared. Believing there was something important with the mirrors, as they detected magic coming from them, and some of them noted a strange sensation when looking up at one point, they did a more thorough investigation of the mirrors. Unfortunately, as Nero was looking up at one of the mirrors, he suddenly vanished without a trace, just as Book had done previously.

The band retreated then and decided to have Ael cast a divination spell asking for advice on how they might enter the room beyond the door. They were then told to “gather the four pieces of the medallion, speak the command word, and place the medallion in its proper place”. Obviously they would need to search the place more thoroughly because they had yet to find anything that looked like a piece of a medallion. So the band went back to the room where the animated sword had been. There, although they made an attempt to get past the sword without fighting it, Kieranen was forced to destroy the sword when he accidentally set off a poison gas trap, just after a secret door in the room was discovered.

Once past the secret door, the band soon entered another room where two statues of minotaurs stood and where there were two more doors leading to the south and to the west. Here, the band was convinced they would be attacked by the two statues at some point, just as they had been attacked by the two panther statues earlier. But despite what the band did, the two statues never moved. So they opened the door leading to the west. This opened on to a corridor that ended in a door which looked just like the door where the magic runes had disappeared. Believing they would not get past this door without the medallion, they then opened the door to the south.

To the south was another passageway that had a side passage to the west after about thirty feet and continued south for another forty feet before making a right-angle turn also to the west. They proceeded to the side passage which led to a large oddly shaped room where nine metal statues of warriors stood along the walls and a dais stood at the center. Upon the dais rested a rune-encrusted golden triangle, intricately carved, and accented with a jewel. Using a mage hand spell, Ael tried to bring the triangle to him without setting off any traps. But as soon as he did so, one of the statues nearest them, an iron golem actually, came to life and attacked them. Suspecting this might happen, the band was ready for it and quickly beat up on the golem, which then set off a fireball trap, causing some harm to the band and mending some of the golem’s injuries. But, for the golem, it was too little too late, and the golem was soon destroyed.

With the golem now gone, the band did a search about the room, finding a secret passage that led to the westerly passage they had just seen, but nothing more. So the band moved on to the passage leading south. This eventually led to a door beyond which the band found a weird, zigzagging passage made of a red, spongy material that emitted wisps of reddish gas where ever it was disturbed. Kieranen tried the passageway and found that his magic necklace protected him from any harmful effects of the gas. But Ael was not so fortunate when he entered the area, as the gas appeared to instantly cause him to go mad. Ael then grasped his head, fell to his knees and began screaming, at which point, Kieranen then pulled him from the corridor. Unfortunately, removing Ael from the area of the gas, did not make his insanity go away.

View
Part Nine: The Sorcerer's Citadel - Chapter 2

It was on the morning of Sunday, the 16th day of Wealsun, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard teleported deep into the midst of the Crystalmist Mountains and soon afterwards ran into a band of frost giants. Despite an early attempt by Dravos to parlay with the giants, a battle soon erupted with the Righteous Vanguard quickly gaining a decisive upper hand thanks in large part to Nicholas who hurled his hammer of thunderbolts, instantly killing the frost giant’s sorcerer and stunning all the others. But the frost giants were also reeling from the cone of force cast by Nero, that knocked many of them down, as well as Book’s confusion spell and his suggestion spell, which had a couple of the giant’s running in fear from a red dragon that they believed would soon appear. The other members of the band then joined in and soon the frost giants and their winter wolves began to drop at a steady rate.

The battlefield was greatly altered however, when Nicholas threw his hammer of thunderbolts a second time and the thunderclap caused by the strike caused in turn an avalanche of snow to come crashing down on top of them. Fortunately, most members of the band were flying at the time and avoided being trapped under the snow. Of the Righteous Vanguard, Kieranen was the only one who got caught in the avalanche, but even he was in no danger of suffocating because of his necklace of adaptation. All of the frost giants on the other hand, were caught by the avalanche. But due to their great size they each managed to keep their heads, at the very least, above the snow. Nevertheless, they and a few members of the band who had gotten close to them were stunned by the impact of Nicholas’ hammer.

When the battle resumed in full force the giants again found themselves being pounded on by the band. Nero, who had taken the form of an air elemental struck with fireballs, Ael threw his bombs, Book cast magic missile spells and Nicholas began throwing his other recently acquired hammer Whelm. Alavarius and Dravos however, did what they could to help dig Kieranen out of the snow. Occasionally the giants managed to strike back, those which had freed themselves from the snow, and hurl rocks at their attackers. Nero in fact, took a few hard hits after getting too close to one of the giants. But in the end, the Righteous Vanguard handily defeated the frost giants without too much difficulty. Nero even chased down the last of the giants who was fleeing from the battle and killed him with a magic missile spell.

When the battle was over, they finished digging Kieranen out of the snow, and then did a thorough search of the giants and their possessions. They found no magic on the giants but did find a descent amount of coins and gems on them.

In addition to the items of monetary value, they found that the apparent leader of this band of giants, which to Nicholas had the appearance of a war band, had a note on him written in giantish. Dravos was able to read the letter and found that it was from the frost giant chieftain, Throngor, and was addressed to Grugnir, Jarl of the Frost Giants. It was a letter of greeting and it stated that this band of giants was the tribute band that had been promised to the Jarl for the Great Gathering. Not knowing what this all meant, the band decided to let Nicholas shape-change into a bird so he could track the giants back to where they had come from and try to determine where they were going and what their purpose might have been. It was the band’s concern that they might have had something to do with the Tower of the Sorcerer Cane. But Nicholas followed the giant’s tracks a few miles, until they disappeared under another avalanche, and it was obvious that the giants had come from a long distance away, from a completely different direction and were not headed in the direction of the tower. So, after Nicholas reported his findings to his companions, the band resumed their travels towards the tower still taking advantage of the fly spells they had operating.

A short while later, the band passed through a line of mountain peaks and found that it formed one side of a ring of peaks about 2 miles in diameter. At this altitude much of the surrounding mountain range was covered in low-lying clouds and the entire center of this ring of peaks was densely cloaked in these same clouds. Only the tops of three spires could be seen poking above the clouds at the very center of the ring. And it was towards these spires that the band then proceeded. As the band drew nearer to what they assumed to be the sorcerer’s tower, they noticed that the air was much less cold than it was outside the ring of peaks and that there was no snow on the ground.

Finally they came upon the tower, shrouded in the chilly damp mist. The cylindrical tower, made of smooth, dark stone, tapered gradually from the base to its peak, where it was crowned with three sharp spires of uneven height. There were no openings of any kind in the dark walls of the tower. But some 100 or more feet from the tower itself, the band found a depression of worked stone, set into the surrounding earth and accessed by a downward-sloping ramp. Inside the depression was what appeared to be an archway which led in the direction of the tower.

Encouraged by Nicholas, who appeared to be very anxious to get inside, the band headed for the depression where the cold swirling mists seemed to collect at the bottom. Dravos then descended the ramp that led into the depression and began looking about for traps. Just inside the archway, which was approximately eight feet high and five feet wide, shapes could be scene lying on the floor of the corridor beyond. A closer examination revealed them to be animal and humanoid skeletons of all sizes. Debris around the skeletons appeared to be equipment that had long since rotted or rusted. The passageway beyond seemed to be constructed entirely of seamless white stone. The sides of the walls appeared perfectly smooth and showed no signs of chips or tool marks.

Dravos cast a detect magic spell and continued to look for traps, while Nicholas, still seemingly very anxious, joined him inside the corridor, which stretched on beyond the range of normal vision and sloped slightly downward. The detect magic spell revealed necromantic magic all around them, as well as other schools of magic coming from the debris on the floor. After doing some checking, the band was able to single out two magic scrolls, a potion and a magic stone among the debris. But as they were doing this, both Dravos and Nicholas began to feel badly, and eventually it was discovered that they both had been poisoned. Further investigation showed that the entire corridor, the floor, walls and ceiling, was coated with a magical poison that could seep into boots, gloves and clothing. Ael, who was immune to poison, helped to determine this and was able to wash off the poison on the magic items they found. Then Dravos cast a couple of spells that repaired the damage caused by the poison.

The band, now realizing they could not touch the floor, walls or ceiling, had to rely on their fly spells to move through the corridor, which made it difficult, particularly for Dravos who now stood almost ten feet tall and had to stoop in the passageway as it was. Still, Dravos led the way, looking for traps as he did so. The band, using several magical light sources, moved very cautiously down the corridor until they were about 160 feet in, where Dravos noted something odd. A small pile of debris, dust and detritus from birds had collected at this point as if there might be some kind invisible barrier. Thirty feet beyond this area was a wooden, iron-bound door at the end of the passageway. Dravos cast a see invisibility spell and found that there was an invisible wall of metal with a door in it, blocking the way. Another detect magic spell revealed conjuration magic coming from the area as well.

Book, apparently acting on a hunch of his, moved forward and touched the invisible wall of metal and to the band’s dismay, suddenly vanished in a faint puff of smoke. Thinking that this may have been some sort of teleportation trap, the band wondered if they should do the same as Book and follow him. But an augury spell cast by Alavarius indicated it would be inadvisable. So the band looked at other options for getting past the invisible wall. Alavarius then cast a clairvoyance spell and with it looked beyond the wooden door they saw. This revealed a sort of storage room. The band then decided to see if they could dimension door beyond the wooden door. To their great relief, this idea worked as hoped, and the band, all except Book, found themselves in a storage room under the tower.

In this room were barrels, boxes and sacks of various preserved foodstuffs, all neatly stacked along the walls and a set of wooden stairs leading to a trap door in the ceiling. A thorough search revealed nothing of value here. So Dravos led the way up the stairs, again looking for traps all along the way.

Soon the band was emerging into the second floor of the tower, which the band assumed to be about ground level as each level was about thirty feet high, much to Dravos’ delight. The second floor appeared to be a sitting room.

Several pieces of beautifully crafted furniture tastefully appointed the room, which was further accented by rich tapestries. And just like the storage room below, a thick layer of dust covered everything. After some investigation, the band discovered a magical fireplace where smoke would simply disappear, as there was no chimney. But nothing particularly noteworthy was found, other than another spiral staircase and a trap door in the ceiling.

So on to the third floor they went. This floor was obviously Crane’s alchemical workshop as it was filled with all the tools of the trade, which included cabinets full of various alchemical substances. The band spent a considerable amount of time here just gathering many of these things and placing them in Nero’s portable hole. While doing so, Nicholas’ hammer Whelm detected a large among of gold and gems behind one of the cabinets, and soon afterwards the band discovered a secret compartment behind the cabinet. Dravos did some trap checking and Nero even cast a dispel magic spell in an attempt to remove a magical trap.

Eventually the band found a safe within the wall. But when they tried to open it, they set off a trap which produced a cloudkill effect within the room and which affected everyone but Ael and Kieranen, who were immune to it. A short time later, after managing to remove the effects of the trap, the band was able to open the safe and remove its contents. In addition to a great deal of monetary treasure, the band discovered four potions and a magic item that might prove to be very useful in the near future. It was a strange black talisman hanging from a pure adamantine chain. The talisman, a ruby-eyed, silver-tongued dragon twined around a ball was apparently something known as a talisman of the sphere – which could be of great help to anyone attempting to control a sphere of annihilation.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.