Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Eight: Return to White Plume Mountain - Chapter 2

On Godsday, the 18th day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard defeated a band of hill giants that blocked their path as they made their way through the Barrier Peaks. During the battle, Gildor lost a couple of his prized magic items, including his ring of earth elemental command, when he was caught on the edge of one of Nero’s forceball spells. But otherwise the band was not severely wounded or hampered by the conflict as it ended in a very decisive victory for the Righteous Vanguard.

Following the battle, Gildor tended to any injuries they had while the others took possession of any items of value found on the fallen hill giants. With this done, the band continued on their way as they traveled deeper into the mountains. There were no more encounters for the remainder of the day. And that night, Book cast a secure shelter spell in a hidden ravine which allowed the band to get through the night with no disturbances.

So on the morning of the following day, Waterday, the 19th day of Flocktime, the band set out again and resumed their trek into the mountains in search of the lair of the troll Grendel and his band. Nicholas was able to follow a number of tracks left by the trolls and their band and when he felt they were drawing close to the lair, he, along with Dravos and an invisible Nero, moved well out in front of the other band members and scouted ahead.

They soon came upon a hidden valley where they could hear distant shouts and what sounded and smelled like an iron forge being used. Peering over the rim of the valley they saw down below numerous dwarven slaves moving crates and bundles into a cave opening as a handful of orcs and bugbears milled about shouting orders at them. They also spotted three guards high up on the perimeter of the valley obviously trying to stay hidden. By their positioning it seemed very likely that there was a forth guard nearby that they could not locate. Taking all of this in, the three scouts returned to the rest of the band and relayed to them what they had seen. From this, the band then formulated a battle plan. Unfortunately it wasn’t a perfect battle plan.

Their idea was to try and take out the guards at the perimeter of the valley without allowing them to raise an alarm, which would have been helpful had they done so successfully. However, it seems they may have over-estimated the fighting ability of the guards and, rather than sending only their stealthiest members in to eliminate the guards, they split the band up into two groups and headed towards opposite sides of the valley. Naturally, one of the guards heard the unmistakable sound of Kieranen in his heavy armor moving up towards him long before they got to him, and the guard’s first action was to blow out a warning signal with his horn. So, with the advantage of surprise now gone, the band went into action making up further plans as they went along.

After dispatching the first two guards, most members of the band immediately headed towards the cave opening as fast as they could, which wasn’t all that fast due the distance involved and the fact that they had to move down the steep valley walls first. Those who could, used magic to fly towards the cave mouth, while others had to get down to the valley the hard way. Only Nicholas and Dravos remained on the perimeter of the valley as they headed towards the two remaining guards some distance away. Along the way however, Dravos slipped and fell and found himself tumbling down the hillside into the valley. When he finally came to a stop, after receiving a few scrapes and bruises, he realized he was already halfway down and decided to continue on down into the valley.

Nero meanwhile, was the first to arrive near the cave mouth, and still invisible, did what he could to interfere with the actions of the orcs and bugbears, which by now had begun to herd the dwarves back into the cave. Since the dwarves were too close to the orcs and bugbears for Nero to cast any mass-damage spells, he put up a wall of force just inside the cave mouth, which not only prevented anyone from entering the cave, but also prevented anyone from leaving it. With the troll’s forces now somewhat divided, Nero began attacking the orcs and bugbears with magic missiles and other more easily controlled spells. Eventually, other members of the band began to arrive and the remaining orcs and bugbears on the outside of the cave were easily taken down.

Nicholas, by this time, had reached the third guard on the perimeter of the valley and took him out. He then eliminated the forth and final guard with an arrow shot across the valley. With all the orcs and bugbears outside of the cave now dead, the band regrouped in the valley just in front of the cave entrance. Here they had rescued 20 dwarves who were very grateful to the band but were in no shape to join them in their efforts to fight the trolls and free the other slaves. One of the dwarves however, who answered to the name of Bleryn, drew out a map showing what the dwarves knew of the cave’s interior.

By the time the band was set to enter the cave, the wall of force had ceased to exist and they began to cautiously enter the dimly lit cave with weapons at the ready. Just inside the cave mouth they were greeted by the remaining orcs and bugbears, which came pouring out of two passageways on opposite sides of the cave. Many of these goblinoids were quickly taken down with mass-damage spells while the few that managed to get through were met by the band’s warriors.

The goblinoids however, were quickly followed by Grendel and six other trolls, all of which wore bits of armor plating and carried with them over-sized great swords. And as if these new adversaries were not tough enough, some of them also had magic items such as a necklace of fireballs and a wand of scorching rays, both of which they used without hesitation. Realizing the potential damage that these items could cause, Nero wisely cast a globe of invulnerability spell centered on the group which helped to protect his companions. Then the band focused the majority of theirs efforts on taking down the trolls. But the trolls did not go down easily.

All seven of the trolls, Grendel in particular, were very skilled fighters and the amount of damage they could do with their huge swords was staggering. It soon became clear that the longer the battle continued the greater the risk was that something disastrous might happen. Fortunately, two of the trolls became the victims of a confusion spell cast by Book and began attacking each other, while a third troll was caught in a holding spell. This prevented the necklace of fireballs and the wand of scorching rays from being used against them.

However, as they would soon discover, it did not entirely eliminate the great danger they were in. For soon afterwards, Dravos found himself having to retreat from one of the trolls who was pressing in on him. But before they could down the troll, it managed to get a clean and direct hit on Dravos nearly cutting him in two and instantly killing him.

Following this, Book unleashed a fireball spell that harmed a few of the trolls. Unfortunately, the fallen body of Dravos was caught in the fireball, causing even more damage to his body as well as his possessions.

But the battle did not last too much longer and the rest of the band was able to kill the remaining trolls, while Nicholas managed to exact some revenge on Grendel and deliver the killing blow. When it was over, the band used fire and acid to insure that these trolls would never again cause harm to another living soul.

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Part Eight: Return to White Plume Mountain - Chapter 1

It was on Earthday, the 6th day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard returned to Greyhawk following their mission to the Valley of the Mage. By midday that day they had already informed Otto of the Circle of Eight about the success of their mission and were attending to personal matters such as the buying and selling of a number of magic items, and checking up on anything that may have occurred during their absence which concerned them.

Gildor, for example, was informed that one of the gnomes among those who had come from Grossettgrottell to help clear out the band’s underground stronghold, had begun to make a name for herself among the other gnomes. Known as Sonda Merkledark, she had taken a romantic interest in Gildor when they first met on the band’s first visit to Grossettgrottell, and during the band’s recent absence she had used her considerable influence and charisma to take control of the gnomes there at the stronghold. While Sonda was well-liked and respected by the other gnomes for her skills as a leader, there were a number of gnomes, the male gnomes in particular, who did not care for her taste in decoration and architecture, seeing her ideas as far too feminine and not very gnome-like in tradition. So, at the first opportunity, a few of these male gnomes spoke with Gildor and dropped a few subtle hints that it might be best if Sonda went along with him on his next quest for fear that the band might return to find their stronghold painted in pink and purple polka-dots.

Over the course of the following week, the band members continued to deal with personal matters while Arthur, more commonly referred to as Book by his newfound friends, spent much of his time learning new spells and adding a few magical protections to the stronghold. Ael likewise spent this time researching alchemical extracts as he began to set up shop in one of the many empty rooms of the stronghold.

At the end of the week Tenser appeared at Nero’s Tower and requested the band to attend a meeting of the Circle of Eight at his castle. So, once again with the assistance of Tenser’s henchman, the female elf Cymria of Celadon and Tenser’s mirror of mental prowess, the band stepped through a portal that opened up in the village of Magepoint and proceeded to Tenser’s Castle. There they met with the Circle of Eight who in turn met the newest member’s of the group. The band then told them about their mission to the Valley of the Mage and answered any questions they had. The Circle expressed their sympathies for the loss of Aejiri and offered to assist them if they could. The band then told them about the letter they had received from Dougan Krafthammer concerning Nicholas’ father and Tenser offered them the use of his mirror should they need it.

So the band returned to Greyhawk, so they could gather a few things, including Gildor’s companion, Sonda. Then, using a ring of spell storing with a teleportation spell in it, Nicholas teleported everyone to his father’s home in the Grand Duchy of Geoff. Soon after, Nicholas learned that his father was now missing the lower half of his right leg, just below the knee, and was now forced to use a pair of crutches to get around. Nicholas’ father, Vaerdal explained to them that he had heard rumors of trolls attacking the nearby town of West Town. When he went to investigate, he discovered that his old enemy, the troll known as Grendel, was behind these attacks and in a confrontation with the troll, it cut off the lower portion of Vaerdal’s leg and left him for dead. A young man by the name of Lhors later found him and took him back to the town, thus saving his life.

Vaerdal told the band that Grendel would continue terrorizing this town and that he was now a much greater threat than he was 16 years before when they first fought against him. According to Vaerdal, Grendel now had six more battle-trained trolls equipped with armor and swords which had been crafted by dwarven smiths who were now their prisoners. In addition to this, they had a small army of orcs and bugbears who served under them.

Realizing the threat they posed to the town of West Town as well as surrounding communities, the band agreed to go after Grendel and his band, and eliminate them once and for all. That night, Vaerdal and Dougan spent much of the evening reminiscing about old times and even talked about the ill-fated trip they had made 20 years before to White Plume Mountain – a topic that Vaerdal never spoke much about due to the disastrous results of the quest.

The following morning, on Starday, the 15th day of Flocktime, the group set out on their northerly trek to the town of West Town. Their first day of travel was relatively uneventful. But on the second day, the group was approached by a gigantic roc that flew out of the Barrier Peaks which lay to the west. The roc, obviously intent on attacking the group, never got the opportunity however, as Book surrounded the group with a wall of flame causing the roc to veer away as it flew over head. The group them blasted it out of the sky with various spells and missile weapons, never allowing the roc a second pass or even a chance to retreat. That night the band feasted on roast roc.

In the afternoon of the third day, Moonday, the 17th, the band finally arrived at West Town, which had a population of about 500. Soon after arriving at the town, the band was directed to the town’s central monastery where they were introduced to the Abbot Vlandar who served as the leading authority of the town. Abbot Vlandar told the band of the troubles caused by Grendel and his band and explained to them that at first they had resisted the trolls attacks. But the trolls were more than the monks of the monastery could handle and many of the monks died trying to defend the town. When eventually it became clear that the trolls could not be defeated, the monks had little choice but to give in to the trolls demands.

Messengers had been sent to the nearby town of Pregmere and the capital city of Gorna. But both of these places had recently been experiencing difficulties of their own and so far, had been unable or unwilling to send any aid. Abbot Vlandar also mentioned that they had received some assistance from a local druid, but said that she was only capable of doing so much, such as rescuing a few of the trolls’ slaves and hindering the trolls’ movements.

After talking with the Abbot for a time, the group debated on whether or not they should wait for the trolls to return to the town and make more demands, or go and fight the trolls in their lair. Nicholas in fact, wanted to leave that night and go after the trolls. So Gildor cast a divination spell and upon receiving an answer the band decided to go after the trolls, but agreed to wait until the following morning.

So the next day, on Godsday the 18th day of Flocktime, the Righteous Vanguard set out west into the foothills of the Barrier Peaks and followed the obvious tracks of the trolls and their allies to the troll’s lair.

At about midday, Nicholas spotted a band of hill giants ahead of them. So the band devised a battle plan, stealthily approached the giants and attacked. With the advantage of surprise on their side and the firepower of the band’s spellcasters, the battle was a lop-sided conflict in favor of the adventurers from the very outset. Many of the giants were caught in a mass of black tentacles and a confusion spell where they were hopelessly doomed while the others became the targets of fireballs and missile weapons.

Towards the end of the fight however, Gildor flew up close to one of the giants to face him in hand to hand combat and got too close to one of Nero’s forceballs, which unfortunately caused damage to some of his magic items.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 14

It was on Godsday, the 4th day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, that the Righteous Vanguard battled and defeated the Six Necromancers in the Valley of the Mage. With the aid of the wizard, Arthur Finch, the First Protector and the Black One himself, two of the so-called necromancers, Promiss Reynolds and Red Morgan, were killed, two, Nyeru Darkspring and Albion Aalkrost, were feebleminded, and two, Elock and Tracy Windstruder, managed to escape.

When the battle was over, the Black One took charge of the situation and made sure that both of the feebleminded mages were tied and bound, while injuries were tended to on the opposite side. Neru was still invisible and unconscious though his condition was not growing any worse due to the fact that he was not actually bleeding. So the Black One dispelled his invisibility allowing Gildor to begin healing him up. Aejiri, on the other hand, did not respond to Gildor’s efforts at healing his injuries and it was soon discovered that his body no longer contained his soul. The Black One realized that the necromancers must have somehow trapped or destroyed Aejiri’s soul in the last attack against him, and that, for the time being, there was nothing that could be done for him.

Once the party had been healed up and all the bodies and their possessions had been gathered, the Black One summoned his current home, which turned out to be a magical instant fortress that suddenly rose up before them. The Black One opened the door to the fortress and invited everyone inside. They all stepped in and made themselves at home while the Black One explained to them all that he knew about the Six Necromancers and how he had been observing them, as well as the Righteous Vanguard. This included his disguise as the dryad who spoke to Nicholas a couple of days before. The one person that none of them knew anything about however, was the wizard, Arthur Finch. Arthur then explained to the group that he had been hunting after the Six Necromancers, in the hopes of acquiring the mage’s spellbooks.

Despite the Black One’s evil reputation, he did not appear to be a particular threat to the band and he, in fact, invited them to stay the night in his fortress while he interogated the two captured wizards and identified the magic items taken from the necromancers. The band agreed and allowed the Black One to go about his work.

He started off by curing the minds of the wizards with Limited Wish spells. Then he questioned them while using spells to read their thoughts. It did not take long to learn a great deal about the Six Necromancers and their motives. And with this information, combined with the magic items they had and the spells found in their spellbooks, it was relatively easy to learn how the necromancers accomplished what they had.

After interrogating the necromancers, the Black One then spent some time, identifying the properties of the recovered magic items. By the following morning, all of the items had been identified and the Black One was satisfied that he had learned all that he was currently able to about the Six Necromancers.

It was the next day then, Waterday, the 5th day of Flocktime, that the Black One and the Righteous Vanguard came to an agreement on how they would part ways and conclude their business concerning the Six Necromancers. The Black One agreed to let the band take the bodies of the two dead members of the Six Necromancers, as proof to the Margrave of Bissell that they had defeated them, while the Black One would keep the captured mages, Nyeru and Albion, to do with as he pleased. The Black One then destroyed two of the magic items that had to do with undead, and got the first two picks of the remaining items, Red’s staff and Albion’s short sword, both of which were evil in nature. The remainder of the items, including all the spellbooks and monetary items, were divided up between the Righteous Vanguard and Arthur. The band would also be taking with them, the body of Aejiri of course, which the Black One cast a spell on to preserve in case the band could somehow retrieve Aejiri’s lost soul. And finally, the Black One agreed to repair some of the band’s magic items, which had been damaged in their latest adventure, in exchange for allowing the Black One to cast a Geas spell on them with the condition that they were not allowed to reveal to anyone the nature or whereabouts of the Black One’s current residence.

The Black One also wanted to be able to call upon the Righteous Vanguard and use them as an outside contact in the future, revealing to them that he was aware they had originally been hired by the Circle of Eight as well as his on-going enmity with Drawmij whom he considered to be an enemy. But the band was less enthusiastic about this proposal and only agreed to work with him on a case-by-case basis. The Black One accepted this and allowed the band to leave on these terms.

From here, the band made their way back to the village of Ebonwood, where they had promised to meet up with the valley elf, Ael once again. Upon the band’s return to the village, they extended an invitation to Dravos, Ael and Arthur to join their band and were accepted by all three. That night, they spent one more night in the Valley of the Mage.

But before the night was over, a messenger arrived in the village with a letter addressed to Nicholas. The letter was from a dwarf by the name of Dougan Krafthammer, an old friend of Nicholas’ father. It said that Nicholas’ father had been injured and asked for the assistance of Nicholas and his companions. Nicholas showed the letter to the rest of the band, who agreed to go with him, but only after they had concluded certain other matters that needed to be dealt with first.

The following morning, on Earthday, the 6th day of Flocktime, all but Nero and Arthur climbed into Nero’s portable hole and Arthur teleported them all to Thornward, the capital city of Bissel.

They then proceeded to the central palace where they spoke to Walgar, the Margrave of Bissel and assured him that the Six Necromancers had been soundly defeated. With only two of the necromancers having escaped, the Margrave agreed that it seemed very unlikely they would see any more of the necromancers, at least for a long time to come. The bodies of the two dead necromancers were left with the Margrave, and the band was awarded the remainder of the money they had been promised. Aejiri’s share of the reward was divided amongst the newest members of the band.

When this was taken care of, Arthur cast a Teleport spell into Nero’s newly acquired ring of spell storing. Then he, utilizing the portable hole as they had before, teleported everyone to his tower just north of Greyhawk. From there, the group entered the city of Greyhawk.

Once inside the city, their first stop was at the home of Otto, who fortunately happened to be there. Otto invited the group inside and the band gave him a brief rundown of all that happened in the Valley of the Mage, but making sure to omit certain details such as where the Black One was currently living. Otto was pleased with the band’s report and promised to inform the other members of the Circle about their successful mission.

The band then went on to take care of other personal matters in the city. Nero, for example, visited the River Rat tavern to make sure there were no messages there for him concerning people who may be looking for him. Then he took Arthur with him to the Wizard’s Guild, where Arthur signed up to become a member of the guild and the two of them began negotiating over magic items.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 13

Late in the morning, on Moonday, the 3rd day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard battled and defeated an iron golem that had suddenly emerged from behind a large tree and blocked the path before them. It was a tough fight due to the difficulty of harming the animated construct and because of the punishing blows it dealt out in return. Nevertheless, the group, with great persistence, was able to take it down and in the end, Nero managed to knock it into his portable hole. Although the iron golem was easier to defeat while it was in the hole, there may be some question as to whether or not it was worth the effort of putting it there – for Nero was badly wounded in the process and several things inside the portable hole were crushed beneath the great weight of the construct and ruined, including the head of the green dragon, much of Nero’s furniture and nearly all of the potions stored there. But at least, they all survived the battle and were able to continue on their way. However, Gildor was not able to heal all of the band’s injuries afterwards and some of the band members were forced to travel with serious wounds.

Fortunately, for the remainder of the day, they had no more encounters that caused them any difficulties. It was about midday when they arrived at the tree people village of Little Bissel which had a population of about sixty. Just as with the gnomes, the tree people had been told by the First Protector of the band’s possible arrival. So the band was met by a small patrol of the tree people just outside the village, and after some brief introductions was allowed to continue on its way with no further delays.

A short while later, the band came upon a lake and the stream that flowed into it from the mountains. Here they met a few of the tree people with a raft and talked them into ferrying them across the stream. Some time after that, the band arrived at the tree people village of Ebonwood.

Ebonwood was the main community of the tree people, home to about 250 inhabitants, and just as before, the people there were expecting the arrival of the band. They were met by another patrol that escorted them into the village and brought them before the Chieftain of the Tree People, a large man by the name of Zurt. Like the rest of his people, Zurt spoke a broken form of the Common tongue but offered the group what hospitality he could having already been told by the First Protector the nature of their business. Seeing that several members of the band were still hurt, he had a few of the village clerics heal them up. But the people of the village made it quite clear that they did not trust and had no love for those who dabbled in arcane magic, despite the fact that many of them were descendants of arcane spellcasters.

Zurt also offered food to the band and a place to stay for the night, though some members of the band chose to eat their own rations after seeing the kind of food they were offered. That evening, the tree people invited the band to join them as they gathered around a communal fire, shared their evening meal, told stories and listened to musicians playing their primitive instruments. They also passed around a strange alcoholic beverage that each of the band members felt obligated to sample for fear of offending the tree people had they not. They were told that it was a tradition for them to share in this drink before having to go off on a dangerous quest of any kind.

During the evening’s celebration Dravos attended to the business that had brought him to the Valley of the Mage. He spoke with the Chieftain Zurt and asked him about Broud, the man he had been searching for. Zurt said that Broud lived in the village and had him summoned. When Dravos then spoke to Broud, he gave him a signet ring that had belonged to his father who lived in the Bandit Kingdoms. Dravos told Broud about his father having recently passed away and that it was his father’s dying wish for Dravos to deliver the ring to Broud who had fled the Bandit Kingdoms some twenty years before. Having fulfilled this obligation, Dravos was now free to do as he wanted and decided to join up with the Righteous Vanguard on their quest to hunt down the Six Necromancers.

Ael, the valley elf, had likewise been extended an invitation to join up with the band. But as tempting as the thought was of leaving the valley and exploring the world beyond, Ael decided he had best hold off on such a venture for the time being until he could finish researching an alchemical extract on which he was on the verge of making an important breakthrough. So the following morning, Ael stayed behind while the band continued on.

The band, meanwhile, had spoken to Zurt about traveling up the stream to the Great Falls, and Zurt offered to have several of his men take them there in canoes. So the next morning, on Godsday, the 4th day of Flocktime, the Righteous Vanguard left the village of Ebonwood, along with a dozen warriors of the tree people, and paddled up stream to a small lake near the foothills of the mountains. At about midday they arrived at a spot on the northern shore of the lake approximately one mile from the falls where the tree people dropped them off. There the band scouted around and found an ideal location to set up a hidden campsite in the event that they would need to stay and rest for a time.

Nicholas then looked around and found a set of tracks that he believed to be those of Red Morgan and Tracy Windstrider as they scouted around the area several days before. From here, the group followed these tracks with Nicholas, Aejiri and Dravos scouting out ahead of the others. A short while later they came upon an ancient elven burial ground inside a small clearing in the forest. To the band’s horror and dismay, the burial ground had been disturbed and it was obvious that about twenty of the graves had been opened from the inside. This, of course, left little doubt that the skeletal remains of the grave’s inhabitants had been animated by the necromancers and were now more than likely serving them as guardians.

Leaving the burial grounds, the band found many more tracks, which not only included those of the animated skeletons, but those of the Six Necromancers as well. Now, more cautiously than ever, the band continued on and drew even closer to the Great Falls and the mountains that lay beyond.

Soon they could see through the trees a cliff wall that marked the edge of the foothills, and a number of cave openings in the cliff. Scouting ahead invisibly they spotted a group of skeletal guardians dressed in elven armor standing guard in front of one of the caves. So the band took note of the situation and the surrounding terrain and came up with a quick battle plan. When they felt they were ready to go, the band moved forward with most of them invisible in an attempt to catch them by surprise.

Unfortunately, the band’s plan did not go as they had hoped, as the skeletons begun charging towards them almost as soon as the group moved forward. Somehow, it appeared that the necromancers were aware of the band’s presence. So the band was forced to begin their attack before they had intended to. Nero, while flying high above invisibly, launched a fireball at the cave entrance, destroying many of the skeletons in the process. But some of the necromancers, who had already stepped outside the cave invisibly, were protected by a magical Globe of Invulnerability. The necromancers in turn began launching devastating spells of their own, such as numerous Spectral Hands and Vampiric Touch spells as well as other protective spells. Meanwhile, Kieranen, Gildor and Aejiri raced to the front to try and battle the necromancers in close combat and Nicholas stayed back and attacked with his bow.

Kieranen however, was stopped just short of the necromancer Elock, by Red Morgan, who suddenly appeared and began pummeling him with his devastatingly powerful staff. Had it not been for Kieranen’s invisibility, he might have been taken down in the first few seconds of the battle. So Kieranen, realizing the danger that Red Morgan posed, used his Crystal of the Eight and summoned a crushing hand that wrapped around Red and took him out of much of the fight. He and Gildor then concentrated on killing Red while they had the chance.

Things did not go quite as well however, for the Righteous Vanguard in other parts of the battle. Aejiri ran up to one of the skeletons, and when he struck it, it exploded. At the same time, Nicholas and Dravos were caught in a cloud of cold mist that slowly drained the life out of them. Then Nero, with another invisibility spell up, got too close to the necromancers and became the victim of Nyeru’s Spectral Hand and Vampiric Touch spells. The hand drained him to unconsciousness and forced him to land. But worst of all; Aejiri was attacked by Tracy moments later and killed with her magical sword.

Things were looking very grim at this point. But all was not lost just yet, as a number of unexpected allies for the Righteous Vanguard began to appear and turn the tide of the battle. The first of these was a wizard by the name of Arthur Finch. Under the cover of a Greater Invisibility spell and staying at a distance he began casting his spells.

The first of these was a Confusion spell, which had Elock momentarily confused and attacking his ally, Promiss, until the drow Albion was able to dispel it. Then he struck the necromancer’s leader, Nyeru, with a Feeblemind spell and then Albion with the same spell. At about the same time, the Black One himself appeared along with the First Protector. They too began casting spells that quickly swung the momentum of the battle in the favor of the Righteous Vanguard. The Black One also summoned an ice devil, which in turn blasted some of the necromancers with a Cone of Cold spell.

At this point, several of the necromancers, seeing that the Black One was now clearly opposing them, realized that their cause was lost and began looking for an escape. Elock then grabbed the hand of Tracy and teleported away. Promiss also tried to flee using a fly spell. But he was dropped out of the sky by a Dispel Magic spell from the First Protector and blasted with several other spells until he was killed.

Towards the end of the battle Red Morgan finally managed to break free of the Grasping Hand. Then he quickly destroyed it with the powerful blows from his staff. But rather than try to flee as his allies had done, he was determined to take down Kieranen. Fortunately for Kieranen though, the combined attacks of he and his companions managed to take Red down before he got the chance finish Kieranen off.

At that point, the brief but very deadly battle was over. The Black One then dismissed the ice devil and moved to address all those who were left standing.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 12

Following the battle with the undead wyverns that the band had on the afternoon of Starday, the 1st day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard, all except Nicholas, were forced to rest near the burned area where the confrontation had taken place. Sometime later, while Nicholas stood on watch, he heard an explosion perhaps a hundred yards off in the forest. When he snuck over to investigate, he was surprised to find a valley elf apparently engrossed in mixing together some kind of concoction from various other substances. Nearby was a smoldering burned spot in the foliage where the recent explosion had obviously occurred.

Nicholas readied his bow, approached the unsuspecting elf, and asked him who he was and what he was doing there. The surprised elf whirled and, after regaining his composure, asked Nicholas the same questions. Eventually the elf explained that his name was Ael’Voniatreth Shanis and that he was an alchemist who had recently been persuaded to leave his village because his research into alchemy was deemed too dangerous for the safety of his fellow villagers. Nicholas likewise explained that he was a member of a group that was now aiding the First Protector in hunting down a group of necromancers, though he did not go into much detail. Realizing that the elf might prove to be helpful in guiding the band through the forest and that the elf apparently had no where else to go, he invited the elf to join him at their camp. The elf, whom the band later nicknamed Ael for short, accepted the invitation and a short while later the two struck up a conversation back at the camp.

While they were talking, Nicholas took note of a female figure that periodically emerged from a nearby tree. Believing this female to be a dryad, Nicholas approached her and greeted her. The dryad, for indeed this is what she appeared to be, introduced herself as Dryana and began asking questions about who they were and what they were doing there. At times she seemed to be rather naïve about the ways of man and, as one would expect for a dryad, very concerned about the safety of the forest and those who lived in it, and yet very curious about the necromancers that Nicholas told her about. But Nicholas answered her questions as best he could, understanding that the dryad would not likely fully comprehend all that he said. When the dryad seemed satisfied with Nicholas’ answers, she wished him good luck and disappeared back into a tree.

For the remainder of the day nothing else noteworthy occurred. So at about midnight, when his companions awoke from their rest, Nicholas introduced them to the new friend he had made, the valley elf Ael. Then it was Nicholas’ turn to rest while his friends stayed on watch throughout the night.

Despite the very real possibility that the Six Necromancers might attack the group once again or that any number of forest monsters might happen upon them, the band somehow got through the entire night with only one encounter. And that one encounter actually appeared to be a benefit to the band. It was shortly after midnight when they were approached by someone who recognized their voices. This someone greeted them, and the band, in turn, recognized him as being Dravos Eliskar, the half-elf rogue inquisitor whom they had met eight months before in the tunnels near Greyhawk. It seemed a very odd coincidence that they should meet again so far away in the Valley of the Mage. But Dravos assured the band that he was there in search of a human named Broud whom he expected to find in the tree people village of Ebonwood – though he would not elaborate any further. As it just so happened, the band was also headed in the direction of Ebonwood, another seemingly bizarre coincidence. So the band invited Dravos to accompany them. They then explained to him the nature of their business in the valley.

The next morning, Sunday, the 2nd day of Flocktime, the group resumed their travels. Following the advice given to them by the First Protector, the group decided to take a trail that headed to the northwest to a gnome village called Woodsdeep. Woodsdeep, the largest of the gnome communities, was home to about 500 gnomes and also happened to be the home of Endoble Mistikmore, the Chief of Woodsdeep, and leader of all the gnomes in the valley. The First Protector had told the gnomes to expect the band’s arrival. So after identifying themselves to the gnomes who greeted them at the edge of the village, they were escorted to the center of the village where they entered a large underground audience chamber – large by gnome standards anyway. There they were introduced to Endoble Mistikmore, who sat in a throne at the far end of the chamber with a stern look on his face.

Once the band had explained to the venerable old gnome the purpose of their mission, he looked at the group with an incredulous glare and asked them why they had not summoned “The Great Dondar”. The band however, had never heard of anyone by the name of Dondar and stared back at him with blank expressions, but eventually told him that they did not know of a Great Dondar. The gnome leader then huffed in exasperation as though he could not believe they had never heard of the Great Dondar. Already the gnomes, obviously influenced by the only contact they had with humans – the tree people, did not think very highly of the humans in the band and assumed Gildor was the band’s leader. Endoble told the band that since they had not thought to summon the Great Dondar, he would do it for them. The gnome then got off his throne, walked around behind it and began mumbling an incantation. A moment later a portal appeared at the side of the audience chamber and out stepped a tall humanoid in a dark hooded robe. His eyes flashed with crimson light and as he waved his hands in the air, fire shot out and a wave of vivid colors and lights swirled around him. Then in an ominous and commanding voice he spoke, “Who has dared to summon the Great Dondar?” He then turned in the direction of the band with an accusing stare.

All the while, the band looked on with a mixture of confusion and disbelief. Some members of the band became quite alarmed and were on the verge of drawing their weapons in the expectation of having to defend themselves against what appeared to be a powerful spellcaster of some kind. Then they heard the sound of the gnome leader, still crouched behind the throne, as he began to giggle. The expressions on the other gnome guards in the hall changed from that of obvious concern to that of amusement as they seemed to suddenly become aware of an inside joke. Just then, the mysterious figure vanished in a puff of smoke as the gnome leader stepped out from behind the throne, still giggling. “Did I scare you?” he asked the band.

Now realizing that the mysterious figure was only an illusion made by Endoble, who apparently had a twisted sense of humor and, like most gnomes, loved to play practical jokes, the band would not admit to having been at all frightened by the mysterious figure and instead warned the gnome that his little joke almost provoked them to attack. Not even Gildor seemed to be particularly amused by the joke. But this was understandable since Gildor was not like most gnomes. Having been the butt of many jokes as a child, Gildor had always acted more like a dwarf than a gnome, being more dour and serious minded than typical gnomes.

Upon seeing the unamused reactions of the Righteous Vanguard, the other gnomes in the hall appeared to grow concerned that their leader might become offended. But the gnome leader did not seem to take any notice of the band’s response, apparently being more preoccupied with his own bizarre sense of humor and still giggling. Eventually though, the gnome leader turned more serious and offered to aid the band however they could. He told the band they could sell them a few potions and what ever supplies they might need. So the band made a few deals with the gnomes and soon afterwards set back out on a trail headed to the southwest.

A short while later, the group was suddenly attacked by a band of unseen assailants who cast web spells at them. These assailants would momentarily become visible as they attacked, but would soon after turn invisible again. Most members of the band were not seriously hampered by the webs and quickly counter-attacked. As they did so, their attackers began to appear and squawk at them in some unknown bird-like language. The band then realized they were being attacked by a band of eight bird-like humanoids called kenku. But they did not know why. So Nero cast a tongues spell and told them to back-off. The kenku responded by demanding the group to surrender their valuables. The group of course, had no intention of complying with the kenku’s request and stepped up their counter-attack against them. After several of the kenku had fallen, it became clear to them that they were badly outmatched. So the remainder turned and fled. When the fight was over, the band examined the fallen kenku and realized that most of them were still alive. So they healed them up a bit and began to question them. Eventually the kenku were persuaded to provide some answers.

The kenku told the band they had come to the valley in search the treasures that were rumored to be found there. Instead, they lost many of their numbers fighting off the numerous monsters that inhabited the valley. They had attacked the group because they were determined to return to their homes in the mountains with something to show for their efforts. Obviously they had chosen the wrong group to attack and they did not appear to know anything else that would be useful to the group. So, believing that the kenku had learned a lesson here and feeling they had no reason to be concerned about any further interference from them, the band let the surviving kenku go and continued on their way.

Later in the afternoon, they came upon another gnome village by the name of Fernwalk, which was home to about 70 gnomes. They too had been informed by the First Protector to expect them, and the band had no difficulties there. In fact, they stopped for only a few minutes before continuing on their way.

A few hours later, as the evening approached, the band arrived at the village of Earthwood, home to about 50 gnomes. Here again the gnomes were expecting the band’s arrival. So they had no difficulty in convincing the gnomes to let them stay the night in their village. This proved to be very helpful as it meant that the band would not have to keep watch for the night and they could be relatively certain that the necromancers would not attack them during the night. Whether or not the gnome village actually provided the band any real protection, they did make it through the night with no problems.

So, the following morning, on Moonday, the 3rd day of Flocktime, the group set out once again. A couple of hours later though, they were suddenly greeted by a huge iron golem that emerged from behind a tree and blocked the narrow trail they were traveling. It spoke one word, “Intruder”, and stepped forward to attack. The group could have probably retreated a bit and skirted around the slow moving construct. But they chose instead to attack it. It did not take long however for them to realize how difficult this fight would be as nothing they did had any great effect on it and it attacked with poisonous clouds of gas and powerful hammering blows. More than one member of the group tried to persuade the others to retreat. But most members of the group continued to battle on, and as they ganged up on it, eventually they began to wear down the animated monstrosity of iron.

As the iron golem was about to go down, Nero, who had come up with a rather questionable plan of placing his portable hole next to the golem and knocking the golem into it, was determined to see his plan through despite the fact that it was clearly unnecessary by this point. After placing his portable hole next to the golem and opening it, he could not convince any of his companions to follow through with the plan. So he cast a spell on himself that would greatly increase his chance of success at performing what would otherwise be next to impossible for him. Then he flew up above the golem with the aid of a fly spell and came charging down into it. In the process, the golem struck Nero, who then further injured himself when he slammed into the golem. But essentially his plan worked and the golem fell into the hole. It was then easily destroyed by his companions.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 11

Following the battle with the owlbears that the band had early in the day, on Starday, the 1st day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard resumed their journey along the Javan River in pursuit of the Six Necromancers. Nicholas continued to track the necromancers and had little difficulty in doing so, despite the damp and drizzly weather, for the necromancers were not skilled woodsmen and made no effort to hide their tracks. Quite the opposite in fact, as if it was their intent to hack away at the dense foliage of the forest and announce to all that they had passed this way.

But perhaps this may have been part of their plan and they were very well aware that the Righteous Vanguard would be tracking them – for it would lead their pursuers directly into a trap made especially for them.

It was about 2 in the afternoon, when the band came upon what appeared to be a recent camp site. Nicholas sent his wolf Whisper up ahead to see if he could notice anything and the wolf was able to confirm that the scent of their quarry was strong in the area. Then Nicholas sensed that Whisper became fearful and alert as if detecting some kind of danger. As the wolf backed away, Nicholas advanced to see what had gotten his animal companion so concerned. Then he saw a figure rising up out of the ground in the middle of the clearing where the campsite had been. The upper portion of this figure appeared to be human. However, the lower portion had no legs, but rather tapered off into a thin wisp of mist, and the overall form seemed to be somewhat transparent and insubstantial. In its hands, the creature held before it a bastard sword. But it spoke no words and just stayed in one place, swaying back and forth as if waiting for someone to step forward and challenge it.

Nicholas crept back at this point to confer with his companions about what lay ahead, and the band discussed their options. It was suggested that they simply move around the campsite and avoid any confrontation with the mysterious creature. But then it was also suggested that perhaps moving off of the trail and into the thicker woods was exactly what the mysterious creature was intended to make them do. So the band was momentarily caught in indecision.

However, as they were standing there pondering over their dilemma, two huge wyverns engulfed in black flames suddenly appeared on either side of the group. These wyverns moved awkwardly and clearly had bits of rotted flesh falling from their pale and decaying hides. So it did not take long for the group to realize that these wyverns were undead. They also recognized the black flames from the troll skeleton attack at the citadel, and it quickly became clear that these monsters had been sent by the Six Necromancers.

Recognizing the apparent undead status of both the wyverns and the sword wielding figure, Gildor attempted to cause them harm by channeling positive energy through them. But he was both dismayed and alarmed when his attempt did not appear to have any affect upon them. The ghostly figure then advanced on Kieranen who was forced to fight it while his companions tried to fight off the wyverns.

The situation became worse however, when two more undead wyverns appeared just a few moments later. These were followed by two more…and then two more…and then two more…and so on and so on. In all, a dozen of these undead wyverns engulfed in black flames appeared two at a time every few moments. Early on, Nero realized the danger and cast an improved invisibility spell on himself and retreated into the woods. From there he was relatively safe while casting his spells to combat these creatures. But it was a very tough battle, made even tougher by the fact that most of the band’s attacks only did partial damage to the monsters. And the undead wyvern’s attacks were brutal. It soon became clear that Kieranen would not last long against these monsters, many of which had ganged up on him. Aejiri however was fortunate in that the monsters had a very difficult time trying to hit him. Gildor did what he could to try and heal up his companions – but it was often too little, too late.

Nero, meanwhile resorted to launching several fireballs, despite the stern warning he had received a few days before about starting fires in the forest. But even the fireballs were not enough to hold off their attackers. Eventually Kieranen went down, followed by Nicholas. Then even Gildor was taken out of the fight, though he managed to remain conscious due to his iron will. By this point, it seemed a certainty that the Righteous Vanguard would soon meet its doom.

Then a strange thing suddenly happened. From out of no where, five giant bats appeared and began attacking the undead wyverns. These bats were no match for the wyverns, and were quickly destroyed – but for just a moment, they managed to distract the wyverns from attacking the band, and gave them a few more precious seconds. These bats were then followed by three air elementals that also suddenly appeared. These air elementals proved to be more effective adversaries to the undead wyverns, though they too were quickly destroyed. Nevertheless, they likewise gave the band a few more precious seconds.

By this time, Gildor used his magic ring to aid himself and his companions in holding off the undead wyverns, by creating a stone wall that completely surrounded them, leaving only a narrow opening above them that was too small for the wyverns to reach inside. A short while later, all of the delay tactics began to pay off, when the wyverns started disappearing two and four at a time. It was at this time that a female drow suddenly stepped out into the clearing and blasted two of the wyverns with bolts of fire.

When this happened a few of the wyverns flew over and began attacking her. She was then forced to fight for her own life, though she managed to hold her own despite receiving a few severe wounds in return. Moments later, Kieranen was revived and he and Aejiri both jumped over the wall of stone and resumed their place in the battle. Meanwhile, the wyverns continued to disappear every few moments, though the band did manage to kill several of them before they too vanished.

When the fight was over, the band acknowledged their gratitude to the drow, whom they realized by now was none other than the First Protector that they had heard so much about. But before they could spend any time in discussions, they all had to pitch in and make every effort to put out the fire caused by the numerous fireballs that Nero launched at the wyverns. This time however, no one complained about the fire or the fireballs.

Fortunately, the forest was still very damp from the recent rains, so the fire had not spread too far and was not as difficult to extinguish. Once the fire was put out however, the band members all collapsed in exhaustion, especially Kieranen. This was because the first two wyverns that appeared also somehow cast spells that caused the group to become greatly fatigued, Kieranen in particular.

They discussed what had just happened with the First Protector, who did introduce herself and claimed that she was a specialist in summoning magic. She told the group that she had received the letter they left for her at the citadel and that she had been watching them for a while since then. They explained to her all that they knew about the Six Necromancers and their apparent intentions. And she encouraged the band to continue their pursuit of the necromancers, saying she would aid them however she could.

She told the group that it appeared to her that the wyverns had been teleported there, which meant that the necromancers could be almost any where. It also seemed clear that the necromancers went to a great deal of trouble to try and aid the undead wyverns with numerous spells, such as the black flames and the spells that the first two were able to cast at the group. All of this also made it very obvious that the necromancers were very powerful.

Nicholas looked around for more tracks leaving the area and could find none. Which likely meant that they teleported from this location, sometime that morning. With the band now exhausted, all except Nicholas who managed to avoid being caught in the wyvern’s spells, the band had no choice but to rest there for the remainder of the day. So the First Protector told the group she would meet them at some point down the road, saying she needed to attend to other business. Then she left the band as they laid down to rest while Nicholas stood by on watch.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 10

On the morning of Starday, the 1st day of Flocktime, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard resumed their exploration of the Obsidian Citadel. But rather than return to the third floor, where they had run into so much trouble before, and where Nero had been killed by an aerial servant, they decided first to take a closer look at the bedroom, which they now suspected belonged to the First Protector, whom they now believed was the drow female featured in a number of paintings and statues they had seen in other parts of the citadel.

However, as the band approached the door to the bedroom, and as Aejiri placed his hand upon the door to open it, a magical trap apparently went off, which the band had unwittingly avoided the first time they visited the room. Whatever the case, Kieranen, Nero and Nicholas suddenly became confused and began behaving irrationally. Initially, Kieranen attacked Aejiri while Nero inflicted harm upon himself. The others tried to stop Kieranen as Aejiri retreated into the bedroom. They were unable to stop Kieranen, but fortunately he was not able to hit Aejiri. Then Kieranen, Nero and Nicholas began changing their actions up; sometimes they would act normally, sometimes they attacked others, sometimes they did harm to themselves, and sometimes they just stood and babbled incoherently. While all of this was going on, Gildor tried several times to dispel the magic that was obviously affecting his companions, and Nero managed to make the attempt once. Finally, on the third try, Gildor was able to remove the confusion and bring the chaotic behavior of his friends to an end. Luckily, the only real harm that they had done during all of this was inflicted upon themselves.

Once the band had regained their senses and everything was under control again, the band entered the bedroom and looked around. This time, Aejiri picked the locks on three desk drawers and they examined the contents. The top drawer had only a quill and some ink. The second drawer had some expensive parchment from Sterich. The bottom drawer however, had a diary and a book of handwritten poems, all of which were written by the same hand in drow. Since the drow language is very similar to elven, some members of the band were able to make out some of what was written in the diary and realized that the poems were mostly love poems about someone named Jason, which the band suspected was the first name of The Black One.

The diary apparently described how this female drow was forced to leave her home in the Underdark and eventually made her way to the surface world where she met The Black One. Some of the later entries in the diary often spoke about a waterfall where she would sometimes meet The Black One.

This waterfall reminded the band of the painting of the waterfall that they had seen earlier in another room, and they wondered if this might be where they could locate The Black One themselves. The band went and spoke to the grivelings and asked them about this waterfall. The grivelings told the band that it was a waterfall near the town of Ebonwood, which was the main town of the tree people. They indicated on the band’s map, where the waterfall was. Then, after some debate, the band agreed it would be as good a place as any to try and find The Black One. In fact, they felt so strongly about this that they decided they no longer needed to return to the third floor to investigate. Instead, they decided to set out immediately for the waterfall.

In order to leave the citadel without falling victim to the traps at the entrance, they used the same trick they had employed before to enter the secret stairwell, and climbed into Nero’s portable hole, then had Gildor fly with the hole across the floor to the front door. After exiting the citadel, Nicholas looked around for tracks and found the tracks of the four necromancers that they had battled the day before. He also found the tracks of two more people, which were a few days old, and they concluded these tracks probably belonged to the other members of the Six Necromancers. All of these tracks headed off to the southwest along the course of the Javan River, which also happened to be in the direction of the waterfall.

The band assumed that the Six Necromancers might have also come to the conclusion that they could locate The Black One at the waterfall, and immediately set out after them. However, shortly after leaving the citadel, they came upon six owlbears that spotted Nicholas’ wolf Whistler, and began chasing after it. Whistler quickly retreated from the owlbears while Nicholas and Aejiri dodged into a wooded area off to the side, hoping the owlbears would not see them. The others then stayed back and prepared themselves as they waited for the owlbears to enter a clearing by the river’s edge. Nero then sent his familiar, Raaze, after one of the owlbears to attack with a vampiric touch spell. Unfortunately, after successfully delivering the attack, Raaze was snatched out of the air by another owlbear and very nearly killed. Using their weapons, the other members of the band took down several of the owlbears very quickly and tried desperately to get to the owlbear holding Raaze, while Nero used his magic missile spells. Unfortunately, it appeared they would not get there in time to save her.

But Raaze, in a desperate attempt to save her own life, used her telepathic powers to plant the thought in the owlbear’s mind that she would not taste good. Whether or not this is what saved Raaze’s life, or if it was the obvious threat of the other band members that were rapidly closing in on the owlbear holding her, none can say with any certainty. But whatever the case, the owlbear threw Raaze to the ground, knocking her unconscious, and turned to face this new threat. The owlbear however, did not live much longer.

When the battle was over, the band had to search around in the dense foliage in order to find Raaze, as she had activated her ring of invisibility during the struggle and could not been seen. They did manage to find her in time though and administered a healing spell and a healing potion.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 9

At mid-day of Freeday, the 28th day of Planting in the Common Year of 580, the members of Righteous Vanguard had suddenly found themselves involved in a deadly battle against four members of the band now known as the Six Necromancers. The leader of the Six Necromancers, Nyeru Darkspring, had, just a short while before, tried to convince the Righteous Vanguard that he was the ruler of the Valley of the Mage, known as the Black One, among several titles. After listening to the Righteous Vanguard describe to him what they knew of the Six Necromancers, Nyeru invited the band to stay the night there in the Obsidian Citadel and left the room. A few minutes later he returned, along with eight troll skeletons engulfed in black flames and three of his companions.

Initially the battle was a very one-sided affair in favor of the necromancers. But due in large part to some devastating spells cast by Nero, and perhaps a flawed battle strategy by the necromancers, which apparently did not proceed as planned, the Righteous Vanguard was able to turn the tide of the battle in their favor. Then Aejiri used his Crystal of the Eight to create a cloud of steam that engulfed the necromancers. And while the steaming cloud almost certainly caused harm to the necromancers, as evidenced by their screams of pain, it also unfortunately, obscured them from sight.

A few of the troll skeletons were still up and attacking at that point. But Kieranen, after having received some much needed healing from Gildor, was quickly taking them down. Meanwhile, Nero had no intention of letting up on his heavy barrage on the enemy spellcasters and tried to warn his companions to remain clear of their vicinity. Unfortunately, Aejiri chose to ignore Nero’s warning and ran up to the edge of the steaming cloud that he had just created. Nero, nevertheless, hurled yet another force ball in the general area of the necromancers, despite the fact that Aejiri might be struck by it. Perhaps Nero believed Aejiri would be able to dodge out of harms way, as he so often did, and if he failed to, then it served Aejiri right for not listening to Nero. But as luck would have it, this was one of the few times that Aejiri would not be quick enough. As a result, Aejiri was blasted by the force ball and a few of his possessions were damaged. To make matters worse, it was unclear if any of the necromancers had been struck by the force ball, as no sound could be heard from them afterwards.

All they could do at that point was to wait for the steaming cloud to disperse. Gildor ran into the hallway and around to a door that opened towards the area where the steaming cloud was, hoping he might prevent any escape in that direction. The door, which was painted with swirling colors, was not locked or trapped, and he flew over the floor, thereby avoiding any traps that may have been placed there.

When he reached the wall that faced in the direction of the room where the steaming cloud was, he cast a passwall spell. Unfortunately, all this did was open up a space for the steam to pour into the room, and Gildor was forced to back away. Meanwhile, the others were able to destroy the last of the burning troll skeletons. After a minute or so, the steaming cloud finally cleared away. But when the band moved to inspect the room, it was obvious that the necromancers were long gone.

Shortly afterwards, one of the grivelings appeared before them and told them that they realized they had made a mistake. The grivelings had believed that Nyeru was the Black One, since they had never seen the Black One without a disguise. But it was clear to them that he was not the Black One when they attacked the Righteous Vanguard without any real provocation, something they believed the Black One would not have done despite the fact that the band had started to steal from him and would not leave when they were told to. For this, the grivelings apologized and accepted the fact that the Righteous Vanguard may have spoken the truth about the necromancers who sought after the Black One. As a way of making up for the misunderstanding, the grivelings offered what assistance they could, as long as it did not cause any harm to them or the Black One. They then told the band that the necromancers had managed to escape by magically transporting to the lower level, from which they fled through the front door, and were no longer inside the citadel. This they knew as they were able to watch from within the stone walls. The grivelings then agreed to alert the band should the necromancers return to the citadel, and even agreed to let them continue exploring about the citadel in an effort to find any clues as to the Black One’s whereabouts. In return, the Righteous Vanguard agreed to refrain from taking anything that did not belong to them, and to not cause any more harm to the citadel or the items within that was not absolutely necessary. The grivelings also advised the band against venturing up to the third floor, as they had been told it was heavily guarded and trapped. In fact, not even the grivelings were allowed to go there.

Taking all of this into consideration, the band then decided to resume their exploration of the citadel. But before doing so, Nero and Aejiri got into an argument over the incident that occurred at the end of the battle. Only days before, the band had spent an entire evening discussing the roles and strategies that each member of the band should adopt in order to perform more efficiently and effectively in any combat situation. Their goal was to try and function as a cohesive unit and to utilize each member’s strengths in the best way possible. But at this point, it was obvious there was still much to be worked on in this regard. The argument continued for some time. But eventually, with little if anything being resolved in the end, the band decided it was time they moved on and got something more accomplished.

The first room they looked at, where the steaming cloud had been just a short while before, was apparently an art studio for the Black One, whom by now the band realized was a talented artist in addition to being a powerful wizard.

Fortunately, some of the better paintings still there had been just outside of the area where the steaming cloud was and where the force balls had been hurled. Some the paintings however, had been badly damaged, as was much of the furniture in the lounge where the battle first broke out. But Nero was able to repair the majority of these things with mending spells, which he then spent some time doing. Several of these paintings depicted a boy, presumably the Black One himself, at various stages of life in the Great Kingdom and it was easy to recognize the pained expressions on the boy’s face and the great anger he felt towards many of his elders. Other paintings, apparently showed scenes within the valley, of places like a waterfall, a guard tower, a valley elf village, a rock garden and colorful birds. Two of the paintings however, which appeared to be unfinished, were portraits of a female drow, or dark elf, in somewhat alluring poses.

The next room they looked at was the room that Gildor had entered at the end of the battle. From the unusually bright and varied colors in the room as well as the furniture within, the band surmised that it was probably the bedroom of the gnome leader, Endoble Mistikmore, whenever he made his occasional visits to the citadel. As such, the band spent very little time examining it. The room next to it, which had two locks on the door that Aejiri managed to pick, was another bedroom. And judging from the way it was decorated, it appeared to be the occasional bedroom of the elf leader, Summerstorm Nightwind. This room they also did not investigate thoroughly.

The third and final room at the end of the hallway had a very complex lock on it, which the band had some difficulty in opening. It too was a bedroom furnished in a primitive elegance and smelled of jasmine. It was a very clean room but otherwise very plain. The only real decoration in it was a picture of a cloaked man, signed “The Exalted One”. Though the band was unsure who this room might belong to, they knew it could not have been the Black One’s. So again they left it relatively undisturbed.

The next room they came to appeared to be empty. So initially they left it alone. However, they later came back to re-examine it and discovered that it was full of furniture and had been made to appear empty with an illusion of some kind. The furniture and various other objects within the room appeared to be unremarkable though when a few of them were pulled from the room where they became visible.

Next to this room was a sort of dance hall where a harp and violin began to play when they opened the door. Fearing that the room was trapped, they chose not to examine it too closely. The only other rooms on this floor appeared to be laboratories. One had shelves full of glassware, lab equipment, and many containers full of various liquids, powders and other substances. Four vials they found here had magical liquids inside. And despite the fact that these vials might have proved useful to the band, they stuck with the agreement they had made with the grivelings and did not take them. The other lab room was vacant but had many burn marks, stains and even areas where things became silenced or invisible. Apparently, the Black One used this room to test various spells.

After having searched most of the second floor, they still had not found any stairs leading to the third floor. So the band asked the grivelings about this. The band felt that it might be important to investigate the third floor for a couple of reasons. Clearly, the Black One’s personal rooms were probably on that floor and it would be in those rooms where they would most likely learn any information of the Black One’s whereabouts. But just as importantly, they might also find information there that could tell them about the Black One’s history, his state of mind, and any plans he might have that would be of concern to anyone outside the Valley of the Mage. The band convinced the grivelings it was important for them to investigate the third floor, regardless of any dangers they might face. So the grivelings told them where they could locate a set of stairs leading to the third floor. However, the only way to reach these stairs was by way of a passwall, dimension door or similar spell, as there was no door leading to the stairwell.

So the band went to the area indicated by the grivelings where all but Gildor climbed into Nero’s portable hole. Gildor then used his ring of earth elemental command to meld into the stone of the wall and pass through it. The band then climbed out of the portable hole, entered the stairwell and headed up to the third floor. But they ran into trouble as soon as they got to the top of the stairs. There, waiting in the small room just above the stairs was a stone golem that came to life and attacked as soon as the group came into view. Worse than this however, was an invisible aerial servant that none of them saw until it was too late. After a brief battle, they managed to destroy the stone golem, but the aerial servant was too much for them, particularly Nero, who unfortunately became the focus of its attacks. By the time the rest of the band was able to get to the aerial servant and vanquish it, it had already beat Nero to death.

Naturally, the band was greatly dismayed by the death of their companion, as was Nero’s pseudo-dragon familiar, Raaze. And of course, no further attempt was made on this day to proceed any further into the third floor of the citadel. Instead, they brought Nero’s body back down to the first floor, where Gildor began making preparations to bring Nero back to life. Gildor had just recently become a powerful enough cleric to make this attempt. However, he lacked the 5,000 gold piece diamond required to cast the spell. Fortunately, one of the grivelings they then spoke to knew where to find such a diamond, and a deal was made to pay for the gem.

Gildor then used the Staff of Kitsyrral to cast the spell that brought Nero back from the dead. Unfortunately, Nero would not be fully recovered following this ordeal, and though Gildor could cast more spells to greatly aid in his recovery, he would not be able to cast the final spell necessary to bring Nero back to full health for another week. So with the spellcasters now almost completely drained of spells, the band decided it was time for them to rest.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 8

After dealing with numerous traps and guardians, the Righteous Vanguard finally entered the Obsidian Citadel of the Black One on Earthday, the 27th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580. There they explored much of the lower level of the citadel before encountering a group of unusual creatures, which could pass through the walls of the citadel, known as grivelings. These grivelings tried to persuade the band to leave the citadel and when the band refused to do so they attacked. But the band was able to fend off these attacks and forced the grivelings to retreat back into the walls. During the fight Kieranen had become trapped in the stone of the floor up to his waist as a result of one of the grivelings’ abilities. But Gildor was able to free him using his ring of earth elemental command.

The band then tended to their injuries and continued exploring the citadel. The rooms nearest to the area where they had encountered the grivelings, turned out to be what must have been their living quarters as these rooms were occupied by strange stone sculptures with art objects mixed in with them, crude furniture made of stone and in one room, numerous artificially created stalagmites and stalactites. They decided to leave these things as they were and moved on to other areas of the citadel.

They then came to a door where Nero had detected magic previously, and came to the conclusion that it was magically locked. Aejiri was able to pick the lock however, and the band then entered a massive library though most of the books it appeared had been removed quite some time before. Still there were a few hundred books left behind, two of which detected as being magical. The band spent some time looking about and discovered other items of interest, such as a few drawings that were tucked inside a couple of the books. One of these drawings was of a boy, which the band suspected might be a self portrait of the Black One when he was very young. A few of these books the band decided to take with them.

After spending some time looking about the library, it was getting late in the evening and the band decided they should rest for the night. Nero wanted to leave the citadel to experiment with what appeared to be some wands he had found, though he detected no magic from them. However, he then discovered that he could not leave using a dimension door spell as it only transported him to the edge of the library. So they decided to all rest inside the library, making sure to keep watches in case the grivelings should return to harass them again.

They got through the entire night without any difficulties however. Or at least they thought they had. On the following morning, Freeday, the 28th day of Planting, some members of the band began to notice that Nero was behaving rather strangely.

It took some time for them to realize what was wrong with him though. So, in the meantime, the band continued their explorations of the citadel. The next room they came to was a rather large study, where, among other things, they found a painting of a female drow elf signed by the Black One and discovered that in addition to being a powerful wizard, the Black One was also a talented artist. Inside a desk, there in the study, they found two jars that radiated magic. One of them appeared to be a potion that would grant darkvision. The other one however, had dust inside it that almost made Gildor fall into a fit of sneezing and coughing.

In the room next to the study, they found a pile of treasure that included art objects and bags full of coins. There was even a life-sized carving of a female elf and a throne, both made of ebonwood. There was also a large humanoid statue made of stone that the band suspected might be a stone golem. Keeping this thought in mind, Kieranen reached down to pick up a bag of coins only to discover that it was covered in contact poison. Fortunately he did not get enough on him to affect him. But as he grabbed the bag, the stone statue came to life and attacked, confirming that it was a stone golem. A brief battle then ensued, and though the golem managed to hurt some members of the band, they were able to destroy it. They then began grabbing some of the treasure, making sure to avoid the contact poison that covered it.

But as they were grabbing some of the treasure, it occurred to them that they really had no right to be taking any of this treasure. After all, this was not the lair of some monster they had defeated. This was the home of a powerful wizard, the ruler of a country, who had done them no harm and had not even threatened them. In fact, it was the so-called Righteous Vanguard who had broken into his home, despite all of his security measures, foiled his traps, beat up the occupants there, destroyed much of his property and was now looting his possessions. Once again, the Righteous Vanguard’s greed was starting to show. And if this were not bad enough, they had given little thought, if any, as to how the Black One might react to having his home invaded and his possessions stolen and damaged.
Their objective in going to the Valley of the Mage was to prevent the necromancers from starting a war between the valley’s inhabitants and the neighboring countries. How ironic it would be then if the band had instead started the war themselves or got themselves killed by a powerful wizard who would have no qualms about, and every right to hunt down and destroy those who had broken into his home and looted it? In fact, as they would soon discover, even the necromancers had not done half of these things!

So, after considering these matters, the band decided to leave behind all the items they had taken so far from the citadel with a few minor exceptions such as the drawing of the boy, which might be useful in locating the Black One. However, rather than returning these items to the places where they had found them, they decided to dump them on the floor there in the library. But considering the difficulty with replacing the magical shields where they got them, this was perhaps understandable.

By this point, it had become pretty obvious to the other band members that there was something wrong with Nero, especially after he had admitted looking at the magical books they had found while he was on watch. Gildor suspected that the books had been cursed and that they had drained a great deal of wisdom from Nero, as many of his recent actions seemed to make very little sense. So he cast a spell on Nero while he wasn’t suspecting, which, considering his current state, wasn’t too difficult, and restored to him his former wisdom. It was only at that point that Nero came to his senses and realized he had indeed been cursed by the magical books.

Following this, the band did a thorough search for secret doors in the area, as they could find no other obvious doors on the first floor. After coming up empty, they then headed up the stairs to the second floor. As they made their way up however, some of the grivelings tried to trip them by reaching up through the stairs and grabbing at their ankles. Nero was the only one that actually fell down though and the group soon made it to the second floor.

But as they approached the second floor, they were met by a man in the robes of a wizard, who began asking them who they were and why they were there. The man claimed to be the Black One himself and invited the band to join him in a lounge on the second floor where they could talk. Most members of the band were very suspicious of him though, particularly Nicholas and Gildor, and it took some convincing by the man for them to follow him. They then proceeded to a comfortable lounge, which was all the more suspicious due to the amount of dust on the furniture. But the man who claimed to be the Black One was very charismatic as they would have expected him to be, and after talking with him for a bit, the band began to wonder if he truly was the Black One. He asked about the necromancers that they were after and about how they managed to get into the citadel, and although they were being evasive about the amount of damage they had done, Kieranen and Nero provided detailed information about the necromancers. Once the man appeared to be satisfied, he offered to let the band stay the night at the citadel, and then excused himself from the room. The band however was still very suspicious and several members made their way into the hallway next to the lounge while the man was gone.

Suddenly another set of doors on the side of the lounge burst open and in came eight troll skeletons engulfed in black flames! These trolls moved to attack and were followed up by the man claiming to be the Black One and three other spellcasters. It soon became obvious that it was actually Nyeru Darkspring, the leader of the necromancers, Albion Aalkrost, the drow, Elock, the most powerful of the necromancers, and Promiss Reynolds, the suspected cleric of Nerull. The battle at first appeared to be a very one sided affair in favor of the necromancers as Kieranen was quickly surrounded and given a severe beating. Nero rescued him by changing places with him and managed to avoid harm with an invisibility spell.

As the battle proceeded though, the necromancers’ battle plan was hampered by the unexpected positioning of the band members and the necromancers appeared to be unable to counter this difficulty. Aejiri used his magic crystal to put up a dispelling screen. But it was quickly brought down by one of the spellcasters. What hampered the necromancers even more was two forceballs launched by Nero which caught almost all of the undead trolls and all of the necromancers. This was followed up by Aejiri using his magic crystal to cast a steaming cloud around the necromancers, and while this caused unavoidable damage to them, it also obscured them from the band.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 7

On Earthday, the 27th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard found a secret door in the Citadel of the Black One, and by about 10 o’clock that morning they had managed to get past numerous traps and were standing outside of another secret door, which they hoped would lead them further into the citadel.

Upon opening this secret door, they found a small chamber where nearly a dozen paintings were hung about the walls. Each of these paintings was a portrait of an apparent nobleman and was labeled with an insulting name rather than an actual name. They noticed that a large rug in the room detected as being magical, so Gildor flew about the room and read off the names of each of the paintings. When this failed to give the band enough information to proceed any further, Aejiri attempted to move the rug. As soon as he did so however, the rug suddenly came to life and attacked him. It completely wrapped itself around Aejiri. So Nero used his spell to once again switch the places of Aejiri and Gildor. Gildor was then able to escape the rug using his ring of freedom of movement. With nobody caught inside the rug, it was then easily destroyed.

The band then decided to look behind the paintings, but when Gildor grabbed one of them, he became poisoned by a thin coat of contact poison on the frame of the painting, which caused him to lose dexterity. Gildor was able to cure the poisoning though, and the paintings were then moved using bits of the rug to grab them. Behind one of the paintings, labeled “My Favorite Sot” they found another secret door.

After opening this door, they found a much larger chamber with a tapestry hanging on the far wall. They also detected three large areas on the floor that radiated magic, as well as what appeared to be another pit trap just inside the door. Nero summoned a shadow monster with a spell and sent it into the room to see what would happen. Halfway across the room it slid into an area where more black tentacles erupted out of the floor and strangled the creature to death. Kieranen then decided to set the pit trap off intentionally and tied a rope around his waist, hoping it would prevent him from falling onto spikes at the bottom of the pit. He then discovered that he was correct about there being spikes in the pit – unfortunately though, these spikes were on the sides of the pit and when the trap door opened, the rope around his waist caused him to swing right into these spikes! After extricated himself from the pit, Kieranen then stepped into the first magic area and became convinced that it would be alright to move further into the room. Realizing that Kieranen must have been magically influenced somehow, Nicholas tried to stop Kieranen from moving any further by intimidating him and threatening him with bodily harm. When this failed to do much good, the two of them even got into a tug-of-war.

It took some time, but eventually they were able to convince Kieranen that he had fallen under the influence of some kind of magic. Gildor then flew about the room, looking under the tapestry as well, for any other means of egress from the room. But he could find nothing. The band then came to the conclusion that this entire area was nothing but a series of traps meant to thwart would-be-intruders into the citadel. So they went back outside and began looking about the rest of the citadel walls for other secret doors. They spent some time doing this. They also returned to the side door and tried to open it. It too was only a false door and was trapped with more poison gas capsules. Upon triggering this they were forced to fight the three remaining gargoyle-like guardians as well.

When the band had finally searched all of the citadel walls, it appeared they had exhausted just about every means of entry they could think of except using passwall spells or trying a different floor. So Gildor cast a divination spell and was given the answer, “Seek the door within a door.” The group then returned to a side door and there within the door they found another secret door.

After opening this door they found a passageway 30 feet long with another secret door at the end of it. However, there appeared to be two more magical traps set in the floor along the way. One by one they moved across the floor hoping somehow to avoid the effects of these traps, and they all nearly made it until it was Nero’s turn. When he tried to move to the far end of the passageway, he was suddenly struck with blindness. He was able to counter this for the most part though, by casting a spell that would allow him to see through the eyes of his familiar Raaze.

The band then moved on through the secret door and through a series of entryways lit by magical candles, until they reach the inner hallway of the citadel. At this point they were able to explore about the various rooms there, including a kitchen where an unseen servant attempted to cook something for them using the few ingredients left to it. The unseen servant then took what it had cooked and set it on a dinning room table in another nearby room. The band meanwhile looked into other rooms, most of which were being used for storage of some kind.

But as they approached another series of doors in another hallway, they were surprised by the appearance of a man’s head that popped out of the wall and began asking them who they were and what they were doing there. The band tried to explain to the being in the wall that they had come in search of the Black One to warn him about the necromancers. But it soon became clear to the being that the band had not been invited to the citadel, and it told them they would have to leave. They tried to get whatever information they could from the being.

But it was being very evasive and obviously did not want to answer any questions. It insisted on them leaving and threatened to force them out of the citadel if they did not leave on their own. Finally, when it became apparent that the band would not leave, the creature and several more of its kind attacked them.

These creatures, which called themselves grivelings and seemed to be capable of moving through stone just as easily as if it were air, were able to alter their features to make themselves appear to be human, though they often made mistakes in doing so, resulting in faces that were distorted or malformed. Using their unusual abilities, they reached up through the floor and the walls of the passageway and began striking the band members. They also had other magical abilities related to stone including the ability to cast stoneskin spells on themselves and turning stone into mud and back to stone again. This later ability they used and managed to sink Kieranen and Nicholas up to their waists in the floor where they became trapped in stone.

During the fight, Nero also tried to cast a fire spell which fizzled out for some reason. So he tried it again, but this time substituting the fire energy for force energy, an ability he had been working on since almost setting the forest on fire a few days before. This time the spell worked. Nicholas was able to free himself by using his magical collar to transform into an earth elemental and eventually, the band was able to do enough harm to the six attacking grivelings that they were forced to retreat back into the floors

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