Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 6

On Waterday, the 26th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard arrived at the Citadel of the Black One in the Valley of the Mage. After discovering that the front doors of the citadel were magically trapped and guarded by gargoyle-like creatures made of stone, they looked around the building for another means of access. They found a door on the north side of the building where they detected no magic, and a door on the backside where they did detect magic.

Following a great deal of debate about their next course of action, they decided to investigate the side door first. But when Aejiri examined the door, he found an odd slot in the bottom of the door that appeared to be part of a trap. It also looked as though the door might be a false door as well. Upon seeing this they decided that they might be better off looking elsewhere first.

So the band turned to the door at the back of the citadel. However, when Aejiri touched it, a mass of black tentacles erupted from the door as if from a Black Tentacles spell. At the same time, three more of the gargoyle-like creatures flew down from the top of the building and attacked. Nero, his familiar Raaze, and Aejiri, were caught in the tentacles while the others had to fight off the citadel’s guardians. The three caught in the black tentacles only managed to escape thanks to a spell used by Nero that allowed him to switch the places of his allies. With this spell he put Gildor in the place of those caught in the tentacles and Gildor was then able to escape the tentacles with the aid of his ring of freedom of movement. Once the guardians were defeated and they had escaped the tentacles, the band had little choice then but to rest for the night as several of them were pretty badly beaten.

They made camp a short distance from the citadel just inside the surrounding woods. Gildor created a wall of stone that enclosed all but one side of them, which faced the citadel so they could keep an eye on it. Later that night they were attacked by four owlbears that happened to be passing by. The owlbears proved to be fairly tough opponents. But after a brief struggle, the band managed to kill them with being too severely wounded. The remainder of the night was uneventful.

The next morning, on Earthday, the 27th of Planting, the band returned to the citadel and tried again to find a way in. This time, once again making use of Gildor’s ring of freedom of movement, they tried the backdoor again, and while the black tentacles that sprung from the door had no effect, they also found that it too appeared to be a false door and would not open. So most members of the band started looking for secret doors, while Nicholas searched the grounds for any signs of a tunnel.

They started on the south side of the building where there were no visible doors, false or otherwise. Then they moved around to the west side or back side of the building. Finally, on the southern portion of the west side, they located a secret door. As Aejiri moved to open the secret door, they found that it was trapped with a capsule that emerged from a slot in the door that broke at Aejiri’s feet and created a cloud of poisonous gas, forcing him to retreat from the door. But Kieranen, with his necklace of adaptation, stepped up to open the door and was unaffected by the poisonous cloud, allowing him to get the door open with no difficulty. So the group waited for the gas to dissipate, then they entered the passageway beyond, which was dimly lit by a glowing moss that covered the walls.

Unfortunately, as they stepped into the passageway, another trap was sprung by a pressure plate in the floor that released a poisonous powder from the ceiling which slowly floated down on them. Again they were forced to retreat. Gildor then used his wings of flying to scout out the corridor ahead. He saw that the entire 30 foot passageway was trapped but found another secret door at the far end. Opening that door, he discovered another passageway where the floor appeared to be safe. So the group decided to climb into Nero’s portable hole, all except Gildor who flew them across and into the second passageway, where he opened the hole and let his companions climb out.

From here, the passageway, also lit by the glowing moss, turned to the north and went about 70 feet towards the center of the citadel. At the end of the passageway were three doors, one of which was made of brass and had images of lizards and butterflies at its center. But before this door they found another pit trap, which they managed to avoid by using the portable hole as they had before.

Once on the other side of the pit trap, they decided to try a wooden door to the east first, where Aejiri could find no trap. The door was locked, but after getting it open they found a room where several shields were hung on the walls. Two of them they detected as being magical and all of them had a coat of arms on them representing various countries of the Flanaess. So Aejiri moved into the room to examine them while the others tried to identify the countries that were indicated. While they were doing this however, two creatures known as black puddings, one on the floor beneath Aejiri’e feet, and another on the ceiling, suddenly attacked Aejiri. Kieranen swung at one of them with his sword and only managed to cut it in half without really harming it, while at the same time causing damage to his sword from the acid secreted by the creature. Resorting to magic and blunt weapons then, they finally killed both black puddings, but not before they had caused more damage to some of the group’s items, including the hat that Aejiri had made out of a skull, which was completely ruined. Once the black puddings were killed, they found that the two magic shields were those of the Valley of the Mage and the Great kingdom. They could find no other means of access to this room however, despite a search for secret doors. So they turned to another door in the passageway.

At this point, Aejiri discovered another trap set on the wooden door to the west. Any attempt to open it would have dropped a huge stone block on anyone standing outside the door. Gildor disarmed this trap by reducing the stone block to soft clay, which then fell onto the floor where it could cause no harm. Unfortunately, the wooden door turned out to be another false door, which would not open.

This left only the brass door to the north. This door was neither trapped nor locked and led to another small room where the walls were covered in chalk frescoes. A few lines of writing in the frescoes was too small to make out from the doorway. So Gildor started to go inside to have a look. But then he realized that the floor was another pit trap. So he used his wings of flying and flew over. When he got to the writing, it appeared to him to be written in elven, which he could not read. So Nero used one of his wands to cast a spell that would allow him to see through Gildor’s eyes. He discovered then that the writing was complete gibberish.

At this point the group appeared to have come to a dead end. So they decided to investigate the pit trap by intentionally setting it off. It took Gildor and Kieranen’s weight upon the floor to trigger it. Kieranen was holding on to a rope with Nicholas on the other end, and while Nicholas was able to keep the elf from falling all the way in, he did get banged up a bit when the trap door opened and Kieranen slammed against the side of the pit. Gildor had it worse however, as he wasn’t quick enough with his wings of flying and ended up falling on to the rusty spikes at the bottom of the pit. Gildor healed himself up though and took a look around in the pit, but found nothing of interest.

From there, the band decided to back-track and search for secret doors along the corridor. A short while later they did find a secret door near the right angle turn that had taken them north.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 5

It was about noon on Moonday, the 24th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard fought off a group of yuan-ti that had ambushed them. When the battle was over, Gildor was left in the form of a snake. Worse than that however was the fact that much of the forest around them was on fire and quickly getting out of control. Realizing that they did not have the means to fight this fire, which threatened to engulf them, they chose instead to turn and flee from it. Before doing so however, Nicholas picked up Gildor in his snake-form intending to place him in his backpack, while others gathered up Gildor’s possessions. Nero wanted to try and return Gildor to his original form however, and attempted to dispel the magic that had transformed him into a snake. Unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.

But just as the group was about to run, another unusual looking creature suddenly appeared in the air before them and caught their attention. It was a green and purple serpent about 12 feet long with feathered wings that spanned about 15 feet. The creature, known as a couatl, spoke to them telepathically and in the common tongue. It was clearly upset about the raging forest fire and strongly urged the group to aid it in anyway they could in its efforts to put out the fire. The creature then summoned about a dozen water elementals and instructed them to dowse the fire, while at the same time directing the members of the Righteous Vanguard to use what ever weapons they had to create fire breaks. It took some time, but eventually the fire was contained and prevented from spreading much further, leaving behind a blackened and smoldering patch of burned forest more than a hundred feet in diameter.

When the fire was finally put out, the couatl, addressed the group again, introducing itself as a servant of Ehlona named Tualoc. It was obvious that the creature was still upset about the fire, although it seemed apparent that not only could it sense the moral and ethical viewpoints of those around it, it could also read their thoughts and knew that the band was only defending themselves from the yaun-ti. Perhaps the couatl was also bothered by the fact that Nero and other members of the band, appeared to show very little remorse about having placed the creatures of the forest in danger, despite the fact that Nero felt badly about having damaged or destroyed some of his companions possessions. Tualoc chastised Nero for being reckless and self-centered, giving him a stern warning about relying so heavily on fire-based spells, and then flew away. But it remained to be seen whether or not the creature’s words had any effect upon the young sorcerer.

Once the couatl was gone, Nero tried again to transform Gildor back into his original form, and this time he was successful.

At this point, the group was able to take the time to look over the possessions of the fallen yaun-ti and gather up any items of value, including several that were magical. They also had to spend some time giving the elf Fleetfoot a proper burial. This took the remainder of the day. That evening they divided up the items taken from the bodies of the yaun-ti.

Later that night, while Aejiri was on guard duty, a huge tiger snuck up to the campsite. It took Aejiri by surprise and pounced on him, rending him with its savage claws and nearly killing him. The other members of the band and their guide Cutter came to Aejiri’s aid however, and managed to kill the enormous feline while Gildor tended to Aejiri’s wounds and kept him from dying. Afterwards, once Gildor had finished healing Aejiri, the rest of the night was uneventful.

The following day, Godsday, the 25th day of Planting, the group resumed their travels. But around midday they came across several of the tree people who had apparently been attacked. Many of them were burned or beaten or both and there was a patch of foliage that looked as it had been struck by a fireball. The group tried to speak to them, but they were obviously reluctant to talk until Cutter addressed them. Even then they were difficult to understand with their broken form of common. Eventually though, they were able to learn that the necromancers had been this way very recently, and that two of them, the female Tracy and the staff-wielder Red, had ambushed the tree people who were trying to follow them.

When it became clear that the necromancers were only a few hours ahead of them, the band decided to do whatever they could to increase their rate of travel and try to catch up with them. This meant creating phantom steeds for Kieranen and Nero and leaving Cutter behind for whom they had no means to increase his speed. However, as soon as they headed out, they lost the tracks of the necromancers who apparently used some form of magic to jump further ahead. Nevertheless, the band decided to continue on as fast as they could hoping they might still catch up to the necromancers or perhaps even beat them to the citadel. Their increased rate of travel may have even allowed them to avoid any encounters for the rest of that day. They traveled well into the night, and by the time they made camp, had managed to travel twice as far as they might have otherwise.

With the aid of further magic, the band was able to cut their rest time down considerably as well without feeling the effects of fatigue. So the early the next morning they proceeded at the same rate as the previous day by utilizing the same methods they had before. This time however, in their haste, they stumbled upon a group of giant boars. Nicholas tried to calm the angry animals but was unsuccessful. So the group was forced to fight them. As soon as they had killed the beasts though, the band set out once again, and by mid-afternoon, they reached their destination.

It was late in the day, on Waterday the 26th, when the Righteous Vanguard arrived at the citadel. They cautiously approached the enormous building of stone, seeing that it had no apparent windows with the exception of the upper most floor, which might have been three or four stories up. There was a long covered porch on the front side of the building, and the band knocked on a set of double doors there. After getting no answer however, Aejiri took a closer look at the doors and when he touched one of them, he was suddenly drained of a considerable amount of life force. Immediately following this, the band was attacked by three gargoyle-like creatures, except that these appeared to be actually made of stone and had been perched near the top of the building.

The group was able to destroy these creatures, one of which spilled out a few small gems as it died. After these gems were gathered, Aejiri tried again to check for traps. But again he was drained of life force. Gildor healed him up. Then the group decided to look around the building to see if their were any other entrances. They found two more sets of doors, one which they detected magic from, the other they did not.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 4

It was about midday on Sunday, the 23rd day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard fought and killed the green dragon known as Sylvandeth. Following the battle, the group tended to their injuries and while doing so, it occurred to them that casting a Speak with Dead spell on the dragon might reveal to them some information about the location of the necromancers. This was because before attacking, the dragon had mentioned something about having been tricked by someone else. The group assumed that the dragon was referring to the necromancers here since it seemed unlikely to them that the dragon could have been speaking about anyone else. With this thought in mind, they discussed for a while a number of questions that they might ask the dead dragon. Then Gildor cast the spell. Fortunately, the spell appeared to work, and when the spirit of the dragon was called back to its body, these were the questions that Gildor asked it:

1)Who was it that tricked you? The dragon’s answer: Despicable humans.

2) How did you learn you had been tricked? The dragon’s answer: The Black One told me.

3) Were these humans headed towards or away from the Citadel? The dragon’s answer: Towards the Citadel

4) What exactly did the Black One tell you about these humans? The dragon’s answer: He said that they were intruders in the valley and that I had let them slip past me.

From these four questions and the answers provided from the dragon, the band came to the conclusion that the Black One was already aware of the presence of the necromancers. If this was truly the case, then a number of things could be surmised. First of all, the Righteous Vanguard would still need to determine the fate of the necromancers and, assuming that the Black One had not already killed them, determine their purpose. It also meant that the Black One was most likely keeping an eye on the necromancers or in the process of trying to locate them himself, again assuming that the necromancers were still alive. Considering the Black One’s apparent concern about agents from the Great Kingdom coming after him, it seemed very unlikely that he would allow the necromancers to move about the valley unobserved. It also meant that, if the Black One knew about the necromancers, it appeared doubtful that the necromancers would be able to take him by surprise. But all of this was based on the assumption that the Black One knew the nature and purpose of the necromancers, but there was always the possibility that he did not.

As the band pondered over these and many other questions, they decided to skin the dragon for its hide and cut off its head to be kept as a trophy. This took the remainder of the day and when they were done they placed the dragon parts in Nero’s portable hole. Then they moved a short distance from the carcass of the dragon and set up camp.

Later that night, they could hear the sound of wolves, feeding on the carcass of the dragon for some time. But at one point, Nicholas and his wolf Whistler, heard the wolves suddenly being frightened away by something else. Nicholas ordered the valley elf Fleetfoot, who was also on watch with him at that time, to wake the others, while he scouted the edge of the campsite. He soon discovered that a half dozen trolls were approaching them and quickly cast an Entangle spell, greatly slowing some of them down. A battle then erupted as the other members of the band ran from their tents and engaged the trolls. It was a fairly lengthy battle, and Nicholas was pretty badly beaten up by the time it was over, despite the fact that trolls were a favored enemy of his. But eventually the band was able to beat them down and burn their bodies, thereby preventing them from regenerating and retuning to life.

The next day, Moonday the 24th day of Planting, the group resumed their travels through the valley and along the way beside the Javan River towards the Black One’s citadel. At about midday however, they came upon what at first appeared to be a group of valley elves that emerged from the trees around them. The group’s guides, Fleetfoot and Cutter did not recognize them though and some members of the band grew very suspicious of their appearance and mannerisms. The supposed valley elves offered to escort the group through their territory, but suddenly attacked them soon afterwards. Several Entangle spells were centered on the group, but only Fleetfoot and Cutter had any real difficulty with them. Cutter in fact never did emerge from the entangled area, for what turned out to be a very bloody and seemingly lengthy battle. Eventually, the band realized that the supposed valley elves were actually a mixed band of yuan-ti consisting of 10 purebloods, 4 half-bloods and 3 abominations which gradually revealed themselves as the battle got under way.

They attacked with bows and arrows and switched to scimitars and their natural attack forms as the band members were able to close with them. Nero killed several of them with Fireball spells that he launched on two sides of the group. But when the yaun-ti then cast darkness spells around the whole area, the tide of the battle suddenly turned against the band. The yuan-ti were more effective at fighting in the darkness and at one point both Nicholas and Nero were caught in the acid-covered and constricting coils of two of the abominations. The battle got ugly at that point and twice Nero very nearly died. In desperation, Nero cast a third Fireball spell centered on himself and his companions, hoping it would cause more harm to their enemies than to themselves. It did not however, due in some part to the yuan-tis’ resistance to spells, but also because Nicholas and Gildor were unable to avoid taking the brunt of the spell.

As a result, some of the possessions of Nicholas and Gildor were either badly damaged or destroyed altogether and the group was in worse shape than they were before Nero had cast the Fireball spell. Fortunately, Gildor was then able to dispel the darkness and the tide of the battle then swung back in favor of the Righteous Vanguard. Eventually, they were able to take down enough of the yuan-ti to cause the two remaining half-bloods and one remaining abomination to flee from the battle. Unfortunately, when it was all over, they found that Fleetfoot had not survived the battle and much of the forest around them was now engulfed in flames.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 3

In the evening of Godsday, the 18th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard were escorted to a guard tower in the Valley of the Mage by a patrol of valley elves, where they were questioned by a cleric of Ehlona named Skywise. When the cleric was done questioning them, the band heard the elves move into a room above them and a few members of the band then overheard a conversation between Skywise and two other elves named Starshine and Swiftblade. From the conversation, they could tell that the elves believed their story about a band of necromancers invading the valley, up to a point, and learned some more details about them, including the fact that the elves were very concerned about the possibility of agents from the Great Kingdom sneaking into the valley with the intention of doing harm to the Black One.

Later that same evening, Kieranen was taken upstairs to be further questioned by Skywise, who seemed to think that he could get more information from him. Kieranen answered the cleric’s questions truthfully without revealing who it was that had hired them, and Skywise appeared to be satisfied with his answers. But before being returned to the guest room, where the door was locked once again, Kieranen emphasized to Skywise the need for urgency in their mission. The rest of the night passed by uneventfully as both Nicholas’s wolf and Nero’s pseudodragon familiar hid nearby in the forest. But Nero was able to do some surveillance of the area and discovered that, contrary to the rumors they had heard, there were a number of humans working with the elves.

The next morning, the elves escorted the band from their room and outside the tower, where Skywise spoke to them again. He told them that he had considered what Kieranen said about the need for urgency and would agree to have a patrol escort the group further into the valley if Nero would agree to allow Starshine to cast a charm spell on him. Nero agreed and the charm spell was cast. Then, once the preparations were made, the band along with a mixed patrol of almost a dozen elves and humans, led by Starshine, they set out on their way further into the forested valley.

For nearly two full days they traveled without any encounters worthy of note, though they did come across many examples of the unusual flora and fauna of the forest. They also learned that the humans in the valley were fairly primitive and moved through the trees just as easily as they moved along the ground. In fact, they made their homes in the trees, thus the reason they were known as the Tree People.

On the evening of Earthday, the 20th day of Planting, shortly after the band and patrol had made camp, they were visited by another elf who suddenly emerged from a large tree just outside the camp.

The elves quickly recognized him as the leader of all the elves in the valley, Summerstorm Nightwind. He was a powerful cleric of Ehlona, and the band soon learned that he was also very distrustful of strangers in the valley. Summerstorm immediately began questioning the band, using spells to try and make sure they did not lie to him. He too was very concerned about agents from the Great Kingdom and his interrogation focused largely on this topic. But the group was able to use this to some advantage, stating that they had reason to believe that some of the ‘so-called’ necromancers were from the Great Kingdom. In time, the band was able to convince Summerstorm of their objective to seek out the necromancers and remove any threat they might pose to both the inhabitants of the valley as well as the surrounding lands. Once this was accomplished, Summerstorm suggested he send only two elves along with them as guides and escorts, while the remainder of the patrol began searching for the necromancers and alerting the other villages. He too would alert the other inhabitants of the valley and locate the First Protector to inform her of what was happening. At this point, Summerstorm admitted to the band that the First Protector was a female, but was very reluctant to reveal anything more about her.

The next day, Summerstorm and the majority of the patrol went on their separate ways, while the Righteous Vanguard, escorted by two elves, Fleetfoot and Calmwaters, continued on the same route deeper into the valley. Unfortunately, later that morning, they were attacked by a creature called a jaleeda bird, which was a cross between a great ape and a giant eagle. It flew out of the sky and snatched Calmwaters off the ground as she was running away. The band was able to bring the creature crashing back down into the forest where they were then able to kill it. But Calmwaters did not survive the fall. So they placed her body in Nero’s portable hole and continued on. Aejiri also cut the head off of the strange beast for some unknown reason. But at least it served as proof that the band was attacked by the creature. Later in the day, the group came across a group of great apes, but avoided any conflict with them by skirting around.

That night, some time after making camp for the night, their campsite was approached by half a dozen venomous snakes. But Nero, his familiar, and Kieranen were able to dispatch them fairly easily without alerting the others.

At about midday, on Starday, the 22nd of Planting, the band finally arrived at a village of about a hundred elves, which had no name. Here, they gave Calmwaters a proper burial and acquired another elven guide named Cutter, to replace her. That evening they had a discussion about what direction they might go in their search for the necromancers. Fleetfoot suggested that the necromancers may have heard about the stone citadel that the Exalted One had built, and thought that the necromancers might look for him there. According to rumors, the Exalted One had abandoned the citadel a few years ago. But there was still a good chance that the necromancers might go there to find any magic left behind by the Exalted One.

There was also a good chance that the necromancers had not heard that the citadel was abandoned. On the other hand, there was also the possibility that the rumor was not entirely accurate either. Perhaps the citadel was still occasionally visited by the Exalted One, since no one seemed to know how to find him and his whereabouts always appeared to be a mystery anyway. Plus, it was also rumored that people like Summerstorm, the First Protector and Endoble Mistikmore, the leader of the gnomes, still made visits to the citadel from time to time, but never seemed willing to discuss their reasons for doing so.

The band agreed that it appeared to be as good a place as any to search for the necromancers, or for the Black One himself for that matter. So Fleetfoot indicated on the band’s map where the citadel could be found, and the following morning, Sunday the 23rd of Planting, they set out.

At about midday however, the band and their elven guides became quite alarmed when they spotted a green dragon flying overhead. They had briefly heard some mention about the dragon before, known as Sylvendeth, supposedly the only one that lived in the valley, and that the dragon was one of many fearsome beasts that aided the Black One in searching the valley for intruders. Because they were accompanied by two elven guides, it was hoped that the dragon would not attack them when it soon afterwards landed nearby.

But Fleetfoot and Cutter had never actually spoken to the dragon before and were shaking with fear when they told the dragon that they were elves of the valley and that they were acting as guides for the others. Unfortunately, the dragon appeared to be insulted by this and clearly did not believe them, saying something about having been deceived once before and not wishing to be tricked a second time. It certainly did not help matters when Cutter called the dragon ‘stupid’, which proved to be the final straw.

At this point, the dragon declared that he would show him who was stupid and began to inhale with the obvious intent of breathing out a cloud of poisonous gas and attacking. Fortunately for the group however, Gildor was quicker and using his magical staff, threw up an invisible wall of wind directly in front of the dragon, which completely dispersed the cloud of gas and saved his companions from any harm. Kieranen then swore an oath that the dragon was now his mortal enemy and with his oathblade, charged at the dragon. He tore into the dragon with vicious blows, while his companions did what they could to defend themselves. Luck was not on the side of the dragon this day, as it then stumbled and fell off balance. Kieranen took advantage of this and did not relent in his savage attack upon the dragon. And though he did not land the killing blow upon the beast this time, it was clearly the elf and his sword that did the most harm to the dragon. The battle was much briefer than any of them had expected, and despite receiving some serious wounds in return, the fight was over before they knew it, and the dragon was dead.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage – Chapter 2

On Earthday, the 13th day of Planting, in the Common Year of 580, the Righteous Vanguard arrived in Thornward, the capital city of Bissel. Soon afterwards they found their way about and were brought before His Lord Grace, Walgar, the Margrave of Bissel. From his seat in a large carved wooden chair inlaid with silver, Walgar spoke to the band and told them what it was that he wished them to do.

“Great adventurers,” he said. “I have heard of your prowess and accomplishments and ask you to come to the aid of the March of Bissel, The Littlemark. I – and the people of this great country – have need of the services of strong, competent folk who are not attached to the Bissel government, and who are experienced fighters and spellcasters. The task will not be easy. But I am certain you are up to it.”

“I love this land and the people,” the Margrave continued. “And there is a force that I believe could threaten both – and more. Perhaps I am being overly concerned. Perhaps the threat has passed. But I believe it is better to be cautious and safe than overconfident and in jeopardy.

“Recently, a group of wizards, necromancers to be more precise, came into Bissel and started threatening some of the people in the outlying areas. They attacked less experienced adventurers, particularly other wizards. It was clear they were after magic or something arcane. They harassed people in the villages, harming those who made any show of strength against them. And they began to eye portions of the land for their own. These necromancers, who numbered only half a dozen, were difficult for my forces to find, as with their spells they could cloak their comings and goings. Still, eventually we found them when they became bold and tried to bully the residents of a village my soldiers were hiding in. There were several fatalities accrued among my force, but eventually the necromancers were banished from the land. We knew better than to try to take them in with the force we had before them. Bissel clerics and mages are using spells to watch the country’s borders and make sure they do not return.

“Most of my advisors assure me the necromancers are gone for good. However, a few advisors believe they will be back when they have more power. And if they don’t come back here, they will come back elsewhere; those who desire political power are loathe to give up their quest. Informants who followed the necromancers tracked them to the Valley of the Mage, a mysterious land ruled by a man called the Black One. He also goes by other names – the Exalted One and the Mage of the Vale. I am certain there are more titles. The mage is said to be powerful and evil.

“Many believe he is human, but if that is true, he must be ancient. He has controlled the valley for decades and has the loyalty of the demihumans said to live there. He seems content to rule the vale, leaving the nearby countries alone. We do not want to war on him or attempt an assassination. Bissel and the surrounding countries do not need to contend with his loyal followers. Besides, our concern is not the Black One. Our concern is what will happen if the necromancers team up with him and encourage him to broaden his power or defeat him and take his place. I know they will not be content to rule only the Valley of the Mage.

“Therein lies your mission. You must travel to the valley and find the necromancers. We must know what their intentions are. You cannot let them kill the Black One if their plan is to usurp his throne, and you cannot let them join forces with the mage, as together they could be a magical force few, if any, could stand up to. Of course, there may be no need for concern. There are rumored to be monsters in the vale. We could hope that the necromancers already have filled the monsters’ gullets. Make sure you do not become food for the creatures.”

The Margrave handed the band a map and continued. “One of my informants, or a spy if you will, has been inside the valley. He was captured by a band of valley elves, a reclusive race that has sworn its allegiance to the Black One. The spy reported being questioned, roughed up, and escaping. Who knows, it is possible the elves let him flee – that is what we believe. In any event, while he was in the valley he learned a few things that should be of interest to you. The valley is carefully guarded; its defenses are many, and some of them are magical. There are valley elves and gnomes within, and at least the elves patrol the land looking for trespassers. There are also large creatures and fearsome monsters. My informant did not know if these things were under the control of the mage. The informant did not see the mage, or a person the elves call ‘The First Protector.’ And he was in the vale before the necromancers, so he is not certain where the necromancers may be, if they are still alive, or if they have joined with or defeated the Black One.

“He believes all of the vale is heavily forested, with the easiest spots to navigate being along the Javan River, which begins high in the Barrier Peaks and leaves the valley by the Dim Forest. The great peaks nearly surround the vale and are very difficult to climb, impossible in some places, and definitely guarded. There is only one point where there are no mountains to bar your way, and that is the point at which the Javan exits the valley. We are certain that area is heavily guarded, too, but perhaps adventurers of your caliber will have little trouble getting in. The only other entrance the informant learned of was a narrow pass through the Barrier Peaks – that is how he got in. It is marked on your map. I care not how you get into the vale, only that you do and find the necromancers. Perhaps some of the vale’s inhabitants are friendly enough to give you some information or point you toward the necromancers.

“I sincerely suggest you do not try to take on the Black One, for I fear that will result in problems for all of us. However, perhaps if you talk to him or to this First Protector, you will be able to turn them against the necromancers. Bissel will pay you handsomely for undertaking this mission. Each of you will be given 4,000 gold pieces – half now in gems, the other half upon your return in a currency of your choice. I have a few trusted assistants available if you want to discuss the matter with them. Perhaps they can pass on some additional knowledge that will be beneficial to you.”

And with that the band was handed over to a Captain Arden who assisted them in any way he could with whatever they needed. One of the first things they did was to speak directly with the Margrave’s informant and learn whatever else they could about the Valley of the Mage or the necromancers. Many of the rumors they heard however did not sound particularly reliable, and some members of the band, Nicholas most especially, did not believe it was worth the effort to listen to any of these rumors. He felt that it would be best to investigate everything firsthand. Captain Arden was able to offer horses for the band though, to speed up their travel and even found a cleric who could greatly reduce their travel time by creating a magical gate to the southern edge of the country. The remainder of the day then was spent gathering any more supplies they thought they might need.

In the morning of the following day, Freeday, the 14th day of Planting, the band gathered outside the inn where they spent the night, along with the horses, Captain Arden, several of his men and a cleric of Celestian. The cleric cast a spell creating a portal that led to a village near the south western corner of Bissel. The group then passed through this portal and soon found themselves entering the small village of Dimly. Here they proceeded to the village’s only inn where the band went inside and asked the innkeeper if he had any knowledge of the necromancers, since this was the village where the necromancers had been run out of. The innkeeper, an elderly man by the name of Jermane, began to tell them what he knew. But Nicholas soon became aware that there was another man at the inn who could tell them even more, a man that Nicholas was quite familiar with – in fact the man was none other than Nicholas’s father, Vaerdal!

Naturally, Nicholas was quite surprised to see his father there and wondered why he had left his home in the mountains several hundred miles to the southwest. Vaerdal told him that things were not the same since Nicholas had left and he felt the need to do some traveling. He had also heard about the band of necromancers as well and thought he would do some investigating of his own. Apparently, Vaerdal was present in the village when the necromancers were chased out and he was able to provide the band with detailed descriptions of the necromancers, one of which was a woman and another appeared to be a drow. From Vaerdal’s description it seemed likely that they were not all necromancers and that they were even more powerful and evil than the Margrave had led them to believe. Vaerdal had also done some research into the necromancers’ backgrounds and passed along that information as well.

According to Vaerdal, the necromancers were being led by one of the younger members of the group, a very charismatic man by the name of Nyeru Darkspring, who originates from the country of Bissel. The rest of the humans in the group, Vaerdal suspected, came from the Great Kingdom, though he could not be sure of this. The other members were Elock, probably the most powerful of the spellcasters, Promiss Reynolds, possibly a cleric of Nerull, Tracy Windstrider, an attractive female that wielded a longsword and a spear, Red Morgan, who wielded a particularly nasty quarterstaff and was very good with it, and finally the drow, Albion Aalkrost, the smallest and most quiet member of the group.

After learning much about the necromancers, the band talked Vaerdal into coming along with them until they entered the vale. So they continued on and along the way, Vaerdal told them many of the rumors that he had heard about the vale, some of which might prove to be helpful for the band. For three days the group rode along the narrow gap between the Dim Forest and the Barrier Peaks, until finally they reached a point near the entrance to the valley. Here they set up camp one last time. Then the band along with Vaerdal, left Captain Arden and his men, to make a short excursion into the Dim Forest.

It was Nero’s hope that they could find a psuedodragon willing to become his familiar. Unfortunately though, their first encounter in the forest was with a group of shadow creatures that attacked them. Nero cast a fireball spell that eventually chased off many of the creatures. But as they were busy putting out the fire that was started by the fireball, they noticed a pseudodragon watching them with great curiosity. Nero was able to befriend the psuedodragon and soon afterwards the group was returning to the camp. That evening, Nero wasted no time and stayed up late that night performing the ritual that would make the psuedodragon his familiar.

The next morning, on Moonday, the 17th of Planting, Captain Arden and his men said their goodbyes to the band and taking all the horses, began their return trip to Bissel. Vaerdal likewise said goodbye to the group, wishing them good luck and inviting Nicholas to come and visit him again soon. Then he headed off on his own claiming there were other matters he had to attend to. The group then turned towards the Valley of the Mage and started off in that direction. Along the way they saw possible signs of the necromancers’ passage who now had a head start of more than a week on the band. They also began to notice the difference in the flora and fauna of the vale as they made their way towards the entrance. But at no point during this day did they encounter any traps or guardians to bar their way.

On the following day however, this changed as they approached the jungle-like forest that supposedly occupied most if not all of the valley. First they came upon a pit trap that Nicholas spotted before anyone became victim to it. Then, after skirting around the pit trap and as they were approaching the Javan River, they were attacked by a huge plant with four long tendrils that tried to grab them and drain the blood out of them. They managed to kill the plant however, and heal their injuries afterwards.

Once they had dealt with the plant, the band forded the river and began making their way into the forest. The forest slowed their travel but still they encountered no inhabitants of the vale until they were about to make camp. Then suddenly they found themselves surrounded by about a dozen of the valley elves who spoke an unusual dialect of elven. Nicholas, Nero and Kieranen were able to understand them though and it was obvious that they would need to surrender to the elves or fight them. Not wishing to make enemies of the elves, they wisely chose to surrender to them, although the elves let them keep all of their possessions including their weapons. The elves then escorted them to a tall wooden look out tower a few miles away. There they were taken to a guest room on the second floor of the tower and soon afterwards were being questioned for the second time by another elf. This elf, a cleric of Ehlona, was called Skywise and he cast a spell to try and ensure that the band spoke the truth. Nero did most of the talking and he did speak the truth, although at times he was somewhat evasive, not wanting to reveal who it was that had hired the band.

Nevertheless, they told the elves about the necromancers that they were after and for the most part, seemed to be fairly convincing from the stand point of the elves. But despite this fact, the elves spoke of summoning their leader, whom they called Summerstorm, and as they left the group, made sure to lock the door behind them in an effort to prevent the band from leaving.

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage – Chapter 1

Following their defeat of Bronwynn, on the 4th day of Coldeven, 580 CY, the Righteous Vanguard discussed the matter and decided that, rather than move everything from Bronwynn’s tower to their underground stronghold, they would simply take over the tower as their own. And since Nero had the most interest in the things inside the tower, and because he had not taken a room at the house in the city where Kieranen was the most permanent resident, he would be the principal resident at the tower. It was also decided that only the stone golem would be relocated to the stronghold, while both of the force golems would remain as guardians of the tower. Once this matter was settled, the band had only to divide up the monetary treasure they had collected there at the tower, which came up to about a thousand gold pieces each. A week later, the city awarded them another thousand gold pieces each as a reward for defeating Bronwynn and recovering most of the stolen goods.

For the next month or so, the Righteous Vanguard did very little of any noteworthiness but attend to a few personal matters and continue about their usual routines. Nicholas returned to the Gnarley Forest for a time where he resumed his training with the rangers there, some of whom began to display a certain bias against Nicholas because he is a follower of Obad-Hai, while most of them are followers of Ehlona.

Nero returned to the Wizard’s Guild and did some more trading with the mages there. As he had done before, Nero loaned the spellbooks recovered from Bronwynn’s tower to Jawal Severnain, the librarian of the guild, who has become very grateful to Nero for his generosity and who Nero has noticed can sometimes be overheard apparently talking to himself in the library when no one else is around. While at the guild, Nero also met another mage and long-time resident of Greyhawk, Jallarzi Sallavarian, whom many readers will, no doubt, recall would eventually come into a great deal of fame herself. She lately had been seen around town with none other than, Kieren Jalucian, Master of the Guild of Wizardry, as the two of them had begun their well-noted romance. Nero’s interest in Jallarzi however was not so much her beauty or talents. After all, with his outstandingly good looks, charm and wit, Nero was often the focus of many a young lady’s wandering eye. But rather, his interest in Jallarzi was her pseudodragon familiar, Edwina, whom Nero took a certain fancy to and perhaps got him to begin pondering the idea of acquiring a pseudodragon familiar of his own. He asked Jallarzi where she found Edwina and she told him that others like Edwina could be found in the Dim Forest, north of the Grand Duchy of Geoff. Little did Nero know at the time that he and the Righteous Vanguard would soon have another, perhaps more important reason for venturing to that area.

Eventually the month of Coldeven came to an end and the following week was the holiday week of Growfest. Like many of the residents of Greyhawk, the Righteous Vanguard took part in the celebration of St. Cuthbert’s Day and, at the end of the week, watched a contest between illusionists at the Desportium of Magick, where a mock battle scene was played out at the Grand Citadel. Nero also impressed many of the town’s residents with an awesome display of his ability with magic missiles, in a challenge against other wizards at the Free City Arena where various other contests and events were being held that day.

A couple more weeks then passed uneventfully. But on Waterday, the 12th day of Planting, the Band was asked to assemble at, what was now being called Nero’s Tower. There they met with Tenser once again, who asked them to attend a meeting of the Circle of Eight at his castle. There they would finally be introduced to all the other members of the circle whom they had not yet met. But before doing so they were made to swear that they would not reveal the true identities of the Circle members, many of whom kept their membership a strict secret and often traveled in disguise and used various aliases. It is believed that this was one of the rare instances where Tenser did not feel compelled to cast a geas spell on the band as he was often known to do in similar circumstances.

Tenser then gave the okay for his trusted henchmen, Cymria of Celedon, to open a portal using their mirror of mental prowess, and a gate suddenly appeared before them. Stepping through the gate, Tenser and the band found themselves in a familiar looking house, where the band had been once before when they visited Tenser’s castle the first time. As before, they were introduced to Cymria, a tall, lean, wolfish-looking elf, whose duty it was to keep an eye on the village of Magepoint, where many of the followers of Tenser lived near his castle. A fighter-mage from the Celadon Forest in Nyrond, Cymria was not the most charming of elves to say the least, but rather a practical, hard-nosed, merciless adventurer who was known for solving problems efficiently.

Leaving the house behind, Tenser led the band to a barn, built into a hillside at the edge of the village, where, as before, they entered a 20 foot wide, 10 foot high arched stone tunnel that led a quarter of a mile out beneath the Nyr Dyv, and to the base of Tenser’s castle, which was otherwise only accessible via a very narrow promontory that spanned the supposed serpent-infested waters of the Nyr Dyv from the village of Magepoint. Tenser explained to the band that they could not simply travel directly to his castle because of the magical protections around the castle, which prevent any sort of extra-dimensional travel from working properly. He further explained that his castle, which was built many, many centuries before, had these magical protections and several more when he first ventured into the place and eventually made it his own. Over all these centuries, the castle was also known, at various times, as the Fortress of Unknown Depths and the Hidden Fortress and had many owners and many battles fought over its possession, many of which made interesting tales that Tenser sometimes related to his guests.

Once inside the castle, the band was asked to wait in a parlor of sorts, while the Circle of Eight was gathered and their meeting got under way. About an hour later, Tenser returned to the parlor and apologized for the delay, as he apparently had to convince other members of the Circle to allow the Righteous Vanguard to undertake a certain mission he had in mind for them. Tenser then led the band to the meeting room where he introduced each member of the Circle of Eight. The members of the band were then introduced to the Circle, which at that time was actually short one member, but included Mordenkainen, of course, Tenser, Bigby, Otto, Drawmij, Nystul, Rary, and their newest member, Otiluke of the Directing Oligarchy of Greyhawk. Some members of the Circle appeared to have very reserved attitudes towards the band as though they intended to judge for themselves just how capable they might be, rather than take Tenser’s word for it.

But Tenser, nevertheless, proceeded to inform the band why he had brought them to his castle and introduced them to the Circle. It was his idea, and the rest of the Circle appeared to support it for the time being, to send the band to the country of Bissel where Walgar, the Margrave of Bissel, was seeking a band of adventurers to perform for him a task, in which the Circle had their own particular interest. This task was to enter the forbidden Valley of the Mage and seek out a group of six supposed necromancers who had recently been the cause of serious trouble in Bissel and eventually forced out of the country. It was the concern of both the Margrave and the Circle that these necromancers would either convince the ruler of the Valley, a powerful and evil mage known as the Black One, to join forces with them, or that the necromancers might defeat the Black One and take his place. Either way, it could spell disaster for the neighboring countries of the Valley, which could be overrun by inhabitants of the Valley with their minds bent on conquest. The Circle wished to prevent this from happening but could not take a direct part in the affair. So it was their desire to send the Righteous Vanguard instead, making sure that the Circle would not appear to have any involvement in the matter, and pass along a more anonymous recommendation to the Margrave that he hire the band.

After some discussion about the mission in private, the band agreed to accept the job and more details were provided. However, they were advised that sources in Bissel could provide more detailed and possibly more accurate information than they could, but to be wary of false rumors and information as well. As part of the band’s reward in advance, the Circle gave to each member of the band a magic item created by them, which they hoped would prove useful in their task.

They were then given some time back in Greyhawk to set their affairs in order, in the expectation of being away for some time. They also bought a good supply of potions at the Wizard’s Guild and the Temple of St. Cuthbert.

On the following day, Earthday, the 13th day of Planting, Tenser opened a portal that led to the back streets of Thornward, the capital city of Bissel. The band then stepped through and began their mission by seeking out Walgar, the Margrave of Bissel.

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Part Six: Loose Ends – Chapter 8

It was late at night, in the earliest hours of Godsday, the 4th day of Coldeven, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard began their assault on the mage Bronwynn in her tower just north of the City of Greyhawk. Almost a minute later, Bronwynn and her puppet henchman, known as the Jester, were badly wounded and forced to flee using magical means to make their escape. However, most members of the band knew they could not have gone far and were soon in hot pursuit.

But despite this fact, all was not well with every member of the band. For in addition to the adventurers being split up, and some of them with serious injuries, there were a couple of band members who found themselves in life threatening situations. Nicholas, for example, had been left all alone on the third floor in a state of magical confusion, very badly wounded and facing two huge earth elementals with only a smaller earth elemental to aid him. And Gildor was in an even worse predicament as he was now in a locked room on the second floor facing a huge stone golem that threatened to crush him with its next attack. To make matters worse, Nero had just fallen victim to a symbol of pain spell that was set off as he entered the kitchen door on the first floor, causing him great suffering and considerable distraction.

But not even this was the end of their troubles at the present time. For as Kieranen, Nero and Aejiri entered the kitchen, a dozen knives of various shapes and sizes, hung upon the kitchen racks, began to animate and attack them. Kieranen and Nero managed to run past the flying knives before they could get to them. But Aejiri was forced to dodge or bat aside the whirling blades, which proved to be more of a nuisance than a real threat.

Kieranen and Nero meanwhile ran down the stairs to the basement, where Nero cast a light spell to reveal a square room with one door on the opposite wall and four suits of armor standing at the sides. After pausing for a moment to assess the situation, Kieranen slowly advanced into the room with great hesitation, as Aejiri caught up to them, leaving the animated knives behind. When Kieranen reached the half-way point across the room, the four suits of armor, much as anticipated, suddenly came to life, drawing weapons as they began to move menacingly towards the elf.

Meanwhile, up on the third floor, Nicholas continued to take a beating from the earth elementals, but to his great fortune, was soon granted a timely dose of good luck as he first, while still in a state of bewilderment, lashed out at one of the elementals and struck it several times, then stumbled off balance, causing one of the elementals to miss its mark badly and strike the other elemental, which had already been sorely wounded. The errant strike took down the second earth elemental leaving just one more to deal with.

Following this, Nicholas’ confused mind finally cleared up enough to enable him to attack the remaining earth elemental. Moments later the confusion spell wore off altogether and the earth elemental, with its time on this plane now at an end, vanished in a puff of smoke. The smaller earth elemental, summoned by Gildor, likewise vanished soon afterwards. Nicholas then realizing what had just occurred, though he could not know what was currently happening down below him, quaffed a healing potion and ran downstairs to join his companions.

As all of this was playing out elsewhere, Gildor was in a grim struggle to save his own life while his companions were completely unaware of just how dire his situation truly was. He managed to dodge one blow from the stone golem, but was struck by another, bringing him that much closer to a grizzly demise. In desperation, Gildor tried to duck and run past the stone golem and was struck again in the process. But fortunately it was not enough to knock him unconscious and with a final surge of determination, Gildor hurled himself at a nearby window which shattered with the impact, allowing the gnome warrior-cleric to fall from the second floor to the ground below. Once again the gnome was fortunate that the fall did not do him in, but merely knocked the wind out of him. So as quick as he could, he got back up, cast a healing spell on himself, and then dove through another window on the first floor in an effort to catch up with his companions.

Meanwhile, in the basement below, Kieranen and Aejiri were forced to battle the animated suits of armor, which much like the kitchen knives above, did not prove to be much of a threat to the two adventurers who were so difficult to hit. But despite their ineffectiveness as worthy combatants, it seems the animated suits of armor did provide Bronwynn some much needed time in which to prepare for her final confrontation with her determined adversaries. Kieranen and Aejiri were about to try and burst through the door on the far side of the room, until Nero spotted another symbol of pain above the door and advised them not to. Instead, Nero cast a couple of spells which unlocked the doors and then opened them from a distance, apparently in the hopes that this would allow them to fight what lay beyond without passing through the doorway.

But the band was rather dismayed when they saw what awaited them in the room beyond, which appeared to be a well equipped workshop for building things out of metal and included a forge, several large tables and a wide variety of tools. In addition to these things, there were four large, humanoid constructs of unusual appearance, made of a bluish metal and beyond them towards the back of the room stood several mirrored images of Bronwynn surrounded by a faintly shimmering sphere of some kind.

Almost as soon as the doors opened up, one of the humanoid constructs, another form of golem they later discovered, launched a wave of force at Kieranen, knocking him backwards and flat on his back. Bronwynn immediately followed up this attack by casting a spell and launched a devastating fireball into the room where Kieranen, Aejiri and Nero were standing.

With Bronwynn making use of an ability to maximize the power of her spell, the heat from her fireball was so intense that it literally melted what remained of the animated suits of armor and very nearly killed Kieranen. Fortunately, Aejiri somehow managed to escape any harm from the spell by dodging to the side while Nero was partially protected from fire. Gildor had only made it to the top of the stairs leading into the basement at this point, and was therefore busy dodging kitchen knives, and Nicholas was still on his way down from the third floor. So neither of them was caught in the fireball. As soon as the smoke from the fireball cleared however, Bronwynn cast another spell which caused black tentacles to spring up from the floor and attempt to grapple with anything that came near.

By now, Nero, now realizing the power of the enemy spell caster, began suggesting that they make a hasty retreat. But others, such as Aejiri, who continued to act as he had done in the past, were not so ready to give up just yet. On the other hand, he was just as equally hesitant to enter the room that lay ahead of him and, for a moment, found himself struggling with indecision. Meanwhile, Kieranen became the victim of numerous force wave attacks from the golems, which continued to knock him back every time he got up eventually throwing him back against the stairs and other hard surfaces, which gradually began to take a toll on him. Gildor did what he could to heal his companions, but was understandably hesitant to enter the room where the black tentacles were.

Finally, Aejiri decided it was time for him to perform a desperate act of his own, despite the apparent risks involved. Making a mad dash through the doorway and, somehow dodging past all four of the golems, and shrugging off any harmful effects of the symbol of pain, he ran up to Bronwynn and grabbed her, despite the many mirror images intended to confuse her attackers. Bronwynn, no doubt caught off guard by the monk’s ability to get past her defenses, struggled in vain as Aejiri dragged her from the protective sphere that surrounded her. Nevertheless, she still managed to blast Aejiri with a magic missile spell as he pulled her towards the other room where the black tentacles continued to grab at anything that came within reach. Aejiri’s plan almost succeeded too. Even the Jester, as badly wounded as he was and probably knowing that any attack from him would ruin his invisibility, tried to save her with a sneak attack on Aejiri. But Aejiri was protected from such attacks by his cloak of displacement. When Aejiri got close to the doorway however, one of the golems, which had tried in vain to strike the monk as it dragged its master along, used one of its force wave attacks to knock back everything around it, including Aejiri and Bronwynn. Bronwynn was protected from any harm by her stone skin spell while at the same time Aejiri lost his hold on the mage.

Bronwynn was then able to regain her feet and run back to her magical globe of invulnerability while the golems focused many of their attacks on the monk in an effort to keep him down and away from the mage. At this point, it seemed that the Righteous Vanguard was back to square one. But following a cone of cold spell from Bronwynn, it also began to look as though the mage was now running low on spells.

By now, Nicholas had arrived on the scene, and seeing what was happening, decided to use his collar of shape changing and assume the form of an earth elemental, which would allow him to travel underground. Using this method, he managed to get past most of Bronwynn’s defenses and emerge from the ground behind her.

At about this same time, Nero, going on a hunch about the nature of the force golems, cast a magic missile spell at one of them and was delighted to see that not only did it affect the golem, it actually caused more damage than expected. So he focused on taking down the golems with his magic missile spells. With some aid from his companions, they managed to destroy two of the four golems.

Once Nicholas began attacking Bronwynn from close range, she was forced to focus her attention on him. Though still protected by mirror images and a stone skin spell, she gradually began to receive injuries again and was not able to pay close attention to the battle elsewhere. Suddenly she found herself surrounded by several members of the band who had managed to get past the golems. It seems certain that at this point she had to have been seriously considering fleeing once again and it was later discovered that she had the means to at least make the attempt, for she still carried her Locket of the Crow, which she apparently used to escape the first time she faced the Righteous Vanguard. There is also the curious fact that, at this point in her career, she was rumored to always have a contingency spell placed upon her that would automatically cast another stone skin spell on her when the first one ran out.

But it appears that Bronwynn never got the chance to flee at this point, nor did her contingency spell ever go off, because Kieranen using his oathblade, Or’Shadi, which was now sworn to kill her, struck true despite her mirror images, and struck with such a vicious blow that it took her down despite her stone skin spell. This was now was the second major villain in a row brought low by the elven blade of justice and its wielder Kieranen, and just the beginning of the legends of the gifted swordsman and his remarkable weapon.

Once the mage Bronwynn had fallen, and Kieranen had made certain she was dead, Nero turned to the two remaining force golems and, sensing an intelligence in them not normally found in golems, was able to convince them to stop attacking. In fact, in a fairly short time, with his super-human, magically enhanced charisma, Nero was even able to charm the golems into serving him.

The Jester however, which was quite distraught over the death of its master, was captured and eventually turned over to the City Watch for interrogation and further studies.

Once the battle was over, the band tended to their wounds and began examining the body of Bronwynn and the Jester for any items of value, confiscating any that were found to be magical. One of these items was discovered to be an extra-dimensional space known as a portable hole. In a nearby room hidden behind a secret door, they also found a stash of art objects that clearly appeared to be loot recently stolen from the wealthy.

Following a thorough search of the basement, the band then moved on to the third floor where they found a journal, a stash of coins and gems and a few other notes and articles that were helpful in piecing together what Bronwynn had been up to in the past couple of years. While in the bedchamber on the third floor, they created a hole in the floor that led down into a library on the second floor. There they found all of Bronwynn’s spellbooks and all of the research she had done over the years on golems, constructs and other animated objects, plus a number of spells she had developed on her own for such purposes. Included in this material were a set of special commands that could be used, as Nero soon realized, to take control of the stone golem and information on how to repair the damage done to it.

By the time all of this was discovered, it was fast approaching dawn. So the band took the time to get some rest. Later in the day, once they had recovered from their late night activities, the band took the portable hole, now carrying all of the stolen art objects, and returned to the city. They immediately went to the Citadel and spoke with Derider Fanshen, telling her what had happened and turning over the Jester and all of the art objects. The magic items found they kept for themselves as none of the items reported as stolen were described as being magical. It was also the band’s intention to return to Bronwynn’s tower and retrieve the golems, as well as the library there and anything else they might want to take.

Upon closing this chapter in the grand history of the Righteous Vanguard, I would like to add a few notes on the mage Bronwynn, who proved to be yet another worthy adversary for our band of adventurers. It seems that during her time in Dyvers and a number of other cities where she briefly employed her unique scheme of burglary by animated puppet, she was able to come into a great deal of wealth, much of it in the form of magical items which can often fetch a high price in a city like Greyhawk. It also appears that during this time she came into possession of a magical tome of stone golem construction, which enabled her to build the stone golem in her tower before she was powerful enough to do it on her own. It also appears that this book was the inspiration behind her research into other golems such as the force golem. And following the quick demise of her puppet force at the hands of the Righteous Vanguard in Dyvers, it seems that she had decided to turn her attention to animated constructs that were more capable of defending her and themselves. Perhaps this is the reason she chose to stay and fight, where as before she would have run at the first sign of trouble. Unlike with her simple puppets of wood and cloth, which could be animated with a single spell of her creation, so much of her time, money and effort had gone into creating her golems that she could not simply turn away from them as she had before. And after all, this time her creations were meant to defend her.

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Part Six: Loose Ends Chapter 7

It was on the 3rd day of Coldeven, in the Common Year of 580, when the Righteous Vanguard began their investigation into the crimes that would eventually lead them to the current residence of the mage Bronwynn. After speaking with numerous people about the latest string of burglaries, including Derider Fanshen and the latest victim of the crimes, Aaron Strachan, the Ambassador of Furyondy, the band decided they needed some divine assistance in determining their next step. Realizing that their were dozens of wealthy citizens in town who could be the next potential victim and that, unlike in Branko’s case there was no warning of where the thieves would strike next, the band needed some kind of clue that would narrow down the list of possible targets.

So the following morning, Gildor, as soon as he was able to, cast a divination spell asking for advice on where to expect the next place for Bronwynn’s puppets to make a burglary attempt. The advice given was to seek out the old residence of the “Crazed One”. Believing the divination spell was referring to Zagig, the Mad Archmage, who once ruled over Greyhawk and was the builder of the famed Castle Greyhawk, the group asked Sturtevant about an old residence of his, hoping there was another place besides the monster infested castle ruins that lay just north of the city. Sturtevant told them about an exotic estate that was once the summer home of Zagig’s within the city, just to the southeast of the wharf gate. It was now the residence of Count Reichart Petrides, the Ambassador of the Duchy of Urnst.

Once this was discovered, the band wanted to stake out the place without making it look obvious that they expected a burglary attempt. So they spoke with Derider Fanshen and had her send extra guards to various other wealthy homes, hoping it would help to cover any suspicions when they went to speak with Count Petrides. When they got to the estate, only Nero and Gildor actually went and spoke to the count while the others stayed back and observed the area from a distance. The two explained to the count what was happening, who then showed them around the house as they examined potential areas where a puppet thief could enter and any things that might be stolen. Once this was done, it was simply a matter of hiding and waiting for the burglars to arrive. So, in the meantime, the band got some rest, and returned in the evening for the stakeout.

Aejiri picked a spot on the city’s nearby outer wall where he could easily observe most of the mansion’s roof top, Nicholas hid in the bushes at the edge of the estate, Nero waited inside while invisible, Gildor disguised himself as one of the many stuffed creatures that were displayed all around the house, and Kieranen posed as the only visible guard out front along with the two other guards who regularly lived and worked at the estate.

Late that night, shortly after one in the morning, Gildor heard the sound of something moving in a nearby room. When he crept over to investigate, he saw that a shallow pan of soot in the fireplace, previously placed there by the band, had been disturbed and that there were tiny footprints in it. But rather than immediately alerting his companions, Gildor decided to wait and see if anything else occurred. After a while, when he realized nothing else was going to happen, he ran and told Nero, and the band quickly began their efforts to track down the thieves. Fortunately, the band had also previously mixed into the pan of soot the crushed petals of a strong smelling flower, knowing that puppets would have no sense of smell and would not detect it. This strong smelling flower was then easily tracked by Nicholas’s wolf, which then led them outside and on to the trail of the fleeing puppet, despite the puppet’s head start.

Oddly enough however, no puppet was ever seen coming or going from the estate and even more puzzling was the fact that the scent of the flowers led them straight to the city’s wall, which probably meant that the puppet was not only invisible, but very likely had a fly spell cast on it, since it is doubtful that a potion would have any effect on a puppet. Whatever the case, the band had to quickly get to the other side of the wall and the nearest city gate was closed. So Gildor cast a passwall spell on the wall and the band moved through. From there, they followed the wolf into the hills and woods north of the city where they eventually came upon an old tower nestled in a small valley and hidden from the view of the city.

The band then observed the tower from a distance, seeing that there were a number of light sources from within, and began devising a plan of attack. Certain that this tower was the residence of Bronwynn and recalling how she had fled from them on their last encounter, the band wanted to get to her as quickly as possible. Several elaborate ideas involving attempts to enter through the second or third floors were brought up, but in the end they decided to simply enter from the first floor through another impromptu entrance created by a passwall spell from Gildor. This they did, but as soon as Nicholas entered, he was attacked by an animated tapestry. Easily brushing past this he then missed the stairs leading up and ran through a dinning area into the kitchen of the tower. Aejiri followed right behind and began to head down the stairs into the basement. The rest of the band however, spotted the stairs going up and went in that direction causing Nicholas and Aejiri to turn around and back track after them.

On the second floor they came to a room where four animated suits of armor approached them. But Gildor dealt with them easily enough by throwing up a wall of stone and cutting them off. It was not until they reached the third and upper most floor that they encountered their first difficult opposition. There they ran into a huge stone golem that threatened to crush them and breathed out a smoke that threatened to slow them down. Kieranen hammered away at the huge construct with his sword and though he did manage to damage it, it was slow going.

So Gildor came up with a clever idea and cast a spell that caused the floor below the golem to give way, sending the golem down to the second floor out of harms way. From there, the group burst through a door and into Bronwynn’s large bedchamber. But Bronwynn had obviously heard the group coming and had just enough time to cast a few spells of her own. One of them apparently had summoned three large earth elementals, which were now standing between Bronwynn and the band. Aejiri managed to slip past the three elementals and began attacking the mage, while the others either attacked from a distance or focused on the elementals. Early on in the battle Bronwynn cast a spell that cause Nicholas to become confused and effectively took him out of the fight. But the rest of the band continued on fairly well despite receiving a number of wounds in return.

At one point, it became clear that one of Bronwynn’s puppets was attacking while remaining invisible even though it never actually hit anything. So Gildor cast an invisibility purge spell and the puppet known as the Jester then appeared. Soon afterwards the Jester received a few attacks as well and very nearly met its demise at that time. Eventually one of the earth elementals was taken down and by that time the band had begun to press in on Bronwynn and was disrupting her spell casting, despite the fact that she had caused some damage in return. But things were getting desperate for her at this point. So she grabbed the Jester and, apparently using a command word of some sort, suddenly disappeared.

Nero realized however that she had cast a dimension door spell and could not be far away. After stating this fact, Gildor cast a locate object spell and discovered that she was now down below the band. So Aejiri jumped out of a window and used his monk abilities to avoid taking damage from the fall while Nero did the same using his ring of feather fall. Kieranen just turned and headed down the stairs. Seeing that she was not outside, Nero and Aejiri realized she must be in the basement. So they turned and went back inside. Unfortunately, Nero entered through the back door where a magical symbol of pain went off and caused Nero to experience excruciating pain.

And as if this was not bad enough, Nicholas was left behind in a state of confusion against two large earth elementals while Gildor, for some unknown reason, intentionally dropped down into the hole he had created for the stone golem. So, not only did Gildor receive some minor damage from the fall, he now found himself in a locked room all by himself against a stone golem that began to beat on him. Fortunately his ring of freedom of movement kept him from being effected by the golem’s breath. But, nevertheless, his situation appeared to be quite dire indeed at this point.

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Part Six: Loose Ends Chapter 6

Following the defeat of the evil halfling psionicist, Branko Gobbet, in the very early hours of Godsday, the 4th day of Harvester, in the Common Year of 579, the Righteous Vanguard put out the fire caused by Nero’s fireball spell and tended to their injuries. Once this was done the group split up, with Kieranen, Nicholas and Nero escorting the four surviving henchmen of Branko’s to the Citadel, while Gildor and Aejiri stayed behind to examine the upper portion of the hideout.

The three members of the band who were escorting the prisoners encountered a City Watch patrol soon after they entered the well-lit main streets of the city, and after explaining to them what had happened and showing them their written orders from Derider Fanshen, the city guards then took the lead in their escort and made sure they had no difficulties getting into the Citadel. There, the four prisoners were turned over to the City Watch and, in turn, marched off to the prison blockhouse, while a deputy constable was summoned to get a preliminary report from the three members of the band. Roughly a half hour later, Kieranen, Nicholas and Nero left the Citadel and made their way back to Branko’s hideout.

Meanwhile, back at the hideout, Gildor and Aejiri quickly went through the two story house that was situated above the underground meeting room and makeshift treasure room. The three bedroom house was spartanly furnished, and with the exception of Branko’s room, contained little more than a dozen or so cots, the meager personal effects of Branko’s henchmen, and a kitchen and pantry stocked with the bare minimum of food, beer and utensils needed to keep them well fed and content.

Branko’s room was the only one that had any real furnishings to speak of, though these were certainly not in the best of conditions and all of very questionable taste. True to Branko’s nature, the décor of his room was indicative of someone who thought himself sophisticated and refined, yet in reality was merely gaudy, vain and egotistical. Much of his room was littered with bits of parchment that lay spread about in odd places, showing that he was not a particularly tidy individual either.

Gildor took the time to study some of these parchments and found that they were scribbled with notes, written in Branko’s hard to read and seemingly frantic scrawl. Some of these notes were likely receipts and such while others appeared to be the half-completed thoughts of a raving lunatic bent on revenge and world domination. However, despite his twisted outlook on life and his humble upbringing, so far as we are aware, it was evident from these notes that Branko was also very intelligent, perhaps even brilliant. But then, it may have been the awesome powers of his mind that, in the end, made him corrupt.

Whatever the case, Gildor, after some time spent comparing these notes, was able to piece together a few answers to the many questions they had about Branko. And over the next few days, this information, coupled with that which would eventually be gathered from the four surviving henchmen following their interrogations, the band would be able to learn and surmise much about what had taken place concerning Branko since his arrest in Narwell.

It was obvious that Branko had escaped from the jail in Narwell using his powers of the mind to influence those who held him captive. But the Righteous Vanguard had their suspicions that there was more to it than that, believing that there may have been a certain amount of corruption in the governing body of Narwell itself. The sudden and inexplicable termination of employment of Leonidas, Kieranen and Sergeant Bilko certainly seemed to support this hypothesis. Unfortunately, the band had no hard evidence to back up this theory.

After fleeing Narwell, for regardless of any allies he may have had in the town, it was clear that Branko had worn out his welcome there, he gradually made his way north and to the east, eventually arriving in Greyhawk, not because he sought revenge on the Righteous Vanguard, but rather because the size and nature of the city appeared to be a good place for him to hide and make a new start. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that when Branko first heard about the band called the Righteous Vanguard who had saved the city from an evil cult of Iuz, he had no idea that they were the same group responsible for capturing him in Narwell, as the group did not have a name for themselves at that time. However, once the band had thwarted one of Branko’s henchmen’s burglary attempts, he, with little doubt, quickly realized who they were and how dangerous they could be to both him and his well-laid plans. So rather than diverting any of his henchmen from their current activities to focus on the Righteous Vanguard, a course of action that he felt would be wasteful, prove ultimately fruitless in the end, and likely put his whole operation in jeopardy, he chose instead to deal with the band himself. To this end, he used his masterful ability of disguise to pose as a child, and utilized a pair of trained pigeons carrying a psionically enhanced stone, to spy on the group and try to determine their plans and any weaknesses they may have had. At one point, he even used his superior stealth to approach each member of the group and attempt to secretly dominate them, the results of which were later realized by Kieranen and Aejiri during the group’s attack on his hideout. And finally, he set his psionically enhanced stone at the secret entrance to the hideout, to alert him when the band had arrived. All things considered, this brilliant little man very nearly succeeded where all other enemies of the Righteous Vanguard had failed thus far.

Once Kieranen, Nicholas and Nero had returned to Branko’s hideout later that night, the group went through the items taken from Branko and his henchmen, and made notes on them, as well as those items recovered from the make-shift treasure room which had survived the fire there. Sometime later they laid down to rest.

The following morning, they were awakened by a knock on the door. It was Derider Fanshen and several members of the City Watch. They spoke with her and told her everything that took place. She thanked them for their hard work and promised they would be rewarded. Unfortunately, in the meantime, she and the guards would have to confiscate everything collected by the band at the hideout, to see if anyone could claim the items as stolen property. But she assured them that anything not claimed within a week would be given back to the group. The group agreed to this with no argument and returned to Grey Manor to inform Sturtevant of the previous night’s events.

For the remainder of the day, each of the band members went about attending to various personal business or simply took the time to relax. Since the Cult of Iuz had been defeated and Branko was now dead, they no longer felt the need to stay together everywhere they went and believed it was now safe enough to assume normal routines as individuals, which was something they had not truly experienced since their arrival in Greyhawk a full two months before!

Shortly before noon, Aejiri made his way to the River Rat Inn in the River Quarter where he was scheduled to meet up with Serena again. She arrived at the inn a few minutes after Aejiri and promptly led him back out and down River Street to a hole in the wall tavern where its name, The Silver Dagger, was barely legible on the badly weathered sign out front. Inside the tavern, the only apparent customers were a group of five very rough looking thugs seated at a table. Serena led Aejiri straight to these men and introduced him. The obvious leader of the group, a bald, overweight man whose face was a mass of scars and whose manners were every bit as gruff and intimidating, questioned Aejiri with some skepticism, but eventually got around to introducing himself as Tomas Ratek, Master Thief in charge of the River Quarter. Having heard a few stories about Aejiri, Tomas was anxious to see if he was truly as capable of defending himself as he had heard. So he asked Aejiri to do a little sparing with one of his men. Aejiri agreed to do so and within no time, had the man pinned face down on the floor and held securely in an armlock. Sufficiently impressed with Aejiri’s skills in the martial arts, Tomas needed no further convincing in this regard.

However, Tomas did have his concerns about Aejiri’s connections to the Righteous Vanguard and Derider Fanshen, both of whom had demonstrated a great desire to bring down those who would work outside of the law. But, just as Serena had pointed out previously, Aejiri’s connections could likewise prove beneficial to the guild – so long as Aejiri kept his priorities in line. Tomas Ratek told him as much and offered to try him out on a probationary status, which meant limited access to the guild until Tomas felt that Aejiri had proven his worth to them. So with this in mind, Tomas gave Aejiri his first assignment to show his loyalty and usefulness to the guild, which was to bring him a copy of the latest guard roster for the River Quarter. This would be a simple enough task with only minor risks involved and yet something that could be very helpful to Tomas Ratek and his operations in the River Quarter.

Later that day, Aejiri accompanied Kieranen to the Citadel as he went to speak with Derider Fanshen about the interrogation of Branko’s henchmen. No doubt, Aejiri made an attempt to acquire the guard roster at that time, but apparently was not able to do so without raising too much suspicion. It was not until very late that night, when he then enlisted the aid of Nero to assist him in this matter by casting an invisibility spell on him and creating a minor diversion at the Citadel, sufficient enough to allow Aejiri to obtain a copy of the roster. Sometime the following day, Aejiri visited the Silver Dagger again and gave the roster to Ratek before receiving his next assignment.

In the meantime however, after a visit to the Mage’s Guild to acquire a previously paid-for scroll from Conrad, Nero was doing a bit of sneaking around of his own. Shortly before dusk on the same day that Aejiri had his scheduled meeting there, Nero likewise entered the River Rat, now with considerably more customers and proportionately more risk than before. Fortunately, his stay at the inn was very brief as he soon found the lone Rhenee he was looking for. And as previously arranged, this nameless individual led Nero from the inn and through an alleyway towards a collection of ramshackle buildings, where he had agreed to introduce Nero to someone that had connections to the Assassin’s Guild. The Rhenee then told Nero to wait in a dark shed behind one of the buildings, while he went inside. Nero was probably beginning to wonder if he had gotten himself into something he should not have at this point. But a short while later, a rather nervous and fidgety sort of man in laborer’s attire peeped into the shed and hastily stepped inside. He asked Nero a few questions and told him that he would have a member of the guild contact him at the Whistling Fish. Soon after, Nero was on his way back to Grey Manor with the discouraging but not unexpected realization that contacting the Assassin’s Guild would require a considerable amount of patience.

Over the next few days, the members of the Righteous Vanguard continued tending to various personal matters and gradually fell into a routine of life in the City of Greyhawk. But as the days slowly passed, each of them began thinking of personal goals that were more long term than their recent day-to-day living and constantly reacting to whatever got thrown in their laps. After a couple of days, they spoke with Derider Fanshen, who told them that the Directing Oligarchy had finally come to a decision about what to do with the cult’s old lair. As a reward for all their efforts in defending the city and its people, they agreed to allow the Righteous Vanguard the use of the extensive complex and the adjacent caverns and tunnels and decided to grant the area to them though it would still be owned by the city. This meant that the band could call the place their own and fortify it against intruders while not having to pay a price well beyond their means for such a vast space so near the city and within its jurisdiction. The only possible hindrances were that the city had the right to impose limits on how the complex was utilized, the city would be allowed to inspect the place as it saw fit, and if the city decided that the use of the land was not in the city’s best interests, it could reclaim the complex.

In addition to this, the city agreed to sell the house that was connected to the complex by a secret tunnel for 7000 gold pieces and allow the Righteous Vanguard the first opportunity of buying it. The band, of course, agreed to buy the house, putting up a down payment of the 4500 gold pieces they had acquired from selling the hook horror eggs. Once the deal was made, the band began making other plans and arrangements for the complex. Gildor, for example, visited the nearby gnome community of Grossettgrottell, taking Nicholas along with him, and spoke to the village elders there about hiring gnomish workers and craftsmen of various skills to come to the complex and begin making certain renovations and improvements. It was Gildor’s hope that by doing so, he could establish a permanent community of gnomes at the complex and attract more to come in the near future.

As all of this was going on, Aejiri continued to perform simple assignments for Tomas Ratek, most of which involved the gathering of information from various city agencies to aid the thieves of the River Quarter in their nefarious activities of smuggling, extortion and muggings. While Aejiri was never told to become directly involved in any of these crimes, he did provide intelligence to the guild which made these activities more effective and profitable. Thus he was able to earn a small measure of trust from Ratek, while avoiding anything too incriminating should he ever get caught.

Nero was finally able to speak with a member of the Assassin’s Guild as well. Having been given a message at the Whistling Fish, he was directed to the Wizard’s Hat Inn where he met a young aristocratic man of surprising taste, charm and etiquette who called himself Danzig. Nero spoke to him and told him that he had concerns about the Scarlet Brotherhood coming after him and why. Danzig told Nero that information about the secret plans of the Brotherhood would not be easy to obtain if at all possible and certainly well beyond Nero’s ability to pay. But eventually, Nero struck a deal with the man, paying Danzig 600 gold pieces in advance, to warn him of any rumors about the Brotherhood and any indication that they might try to assassinate him. With whatever peace of mind this might buy him and help to convince him that he was now a little safer in the City of Greyhawk, it would have to do.

A week after the demise of Branko and his henchmen, as Derider had promised, the band was given those items not identified as stolen property, which included all of the magic items taken from Branko and his men, as well as 1000 gold pieces worth of coins to be divided among the band. By this time, things had settled back down in Greyhawk and the city and its people were well on their way to resuming business as usual and gradually recovering from the turmoil caused by the Falcon and her Cult of Iuz. The Righteous Vanguard took advantage of the greatly diminished chaos within the city and focused their efforts on other more personal concerns. Time passed and days turned to weeks while weeks became months. A mild winter came and went, and before they knew it, six months had passed by before another truly noteworthy event had occurred.

During this six month period, the band spent some of the time making new friends, such as the mages Otto and Tenser of The Circle of Eight, who invited them to dinner at the Golden Phoenix one evening to thank them for coming to the aid of the city and for rescuing Aestrella Shanfarel, whom the mages knew only as the half-elven maiden and grand diva of the Royal Opera, and whom Otto had been infatuated with for quite sometime. It was obvious to the group that even these learned and respected mages were unaware that Aestrella was actually a Greyhawk dragon and the band kept their promise to Sturtevant and did not tell them. A few weeks later, Tenser, who enjoyed entertaining guests at his home, invited the band to his castle on the edge of the Nyr Dyv, and their friendship continued to flourish. The band meanwhile gradually began to learn all about the Circle of Eight and what its objectives were.

Also during this time, Nicholas decided he had had enough of city life for a while and told his new friends he wanted to get back to the wilderness if there was nothing urgent to keep him there. Telling the band that he would periodically check back with them from time to time, he then headed back into the hills from which he came. There, it was not long before he encountered a lone wolf of surprising intelligence and within a very short time, the two seemed to form a natural bond. From that day on, the wolf seemed to follow Nicholas wherever he went unless it was told otherwise. At first, Nicholas stuck to the Cairn Hills where he helped to establish a network of communication from the City of Greyhawk to the gnome community of Grossettgrottell, and on to the garrison of Stonefort far to the north. Later on however, during the winter months, Nicholas spent much of his time in the Gnarley Forest where he learned a great deal from the Rangers of the Forest and in particular, a veteran Ranger Knight known as Brandolin the Grey. It was at this time that Nicholas first became familiar with many of the established communities within the forest, which included those of humans, elves, gnomes, a number of faerie folk and even swanmays, to name just a few.

Kieranen likewise remained busy during this time by doing what he could to assist the City Watch in whatever they needed. He also took a suit of black dragon armor, acquired from one of Branko’s henchmen, and had it enchanted with the most powerful enhancements he could afford at the time.

By the end of the six month period, Aejiri had spent a great deal of time training with the Enclave of the Black Order and had managed to gain some trust from the Thieves’ Guild, but was still on a probationary status as he was not a true thief and did not steal or commit muggings like other members of the guild. This meant that he still had yet to convince Tomas Ratek of his loyalty.

Nero, on the other hand, spent much of his time experimenting with his spell casting powers and by the end of the six month period had developed some new and interesting effects involving “force magic”, which he took a great deal of interest in and became quite adept at.

And finally there was Gildor, who put most of his efforts into fixing up the group’s stronghold and spent a considerable sum in payment to his fellow gnomes for their services. Many of these gnomes decided to stay at the stronghold once the work was done, and in the future their presence so near the city would be of great help to those gnomes who occasionally had business within the city.

It was not until Moonday, the 3rd day of Coldeven in the Common Year of 580, six months following the downfall of Branko Gobbet, that the Righteous Vanguard first began to hear the rumors that would quickly lead them to the next event of any noteworthiness in their illustrious history. But like six months before, it was Derider Fanshen who called upon them and once again asked them for their assistance in solving a series of burglaries that had the City Watch mystified. After summoning the band to the Citadel, she spoke to them and told them what they knew about these burglaries, which was not much except that there was never any sign of forced entry, or any lock-picking, or any clues at all for that matter. However, as the band listened to the list of burglaries and the complete lack of evidence, all but Nicholas began to have the odd sense that they had heard this somewhere before.

With this thought in the backs of their minds, they got the address of the most recent victim and promptly headed in that direction. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the home of one of the city’s wealthiest citizens, a lecherous old goat of a man by the name of Aaron Strachan, who lived in the High Quarter and who also happened to be the Ambassador of Furyondy. Shortly upon arriving at the rambling old mansion, the band spoke to Mr. Strachan and learned what they could from him. He was a great patron of the arts and known to be generous to the extreme. Many of the unique objects of art stolen from his home were worth a fortune, and despite the home being well-maintained with added security features that included windows enchanted with glassteel spells, there did not appear to be a clue to be found anywhere…that is unless one knew where to look.

Aejiri, going on a hunch, climbed to the roof of the house and examined the chimney area. There, as he had suspected, he found traces of soot that could only have gotten there from a creature small enough to climb into the chimney. To back this up, Nicholas took a close look at the fireplace below and found the faint impressions of tiny, ill-defined footprints…the kind one might expect to be made by a doll or a puppet. One reason why this may have been overlooked in the initial investigation was that some of the stolen objects were too large to fit up the chimney, which made the band suspect, that the burglars had an extra-dimensional space of some kind. Whatever the case, all the evidence seemed to point to an old acquaintance of theirs as the perpetrator – none other than the mage Bronwynn, who had fled from the city of Dyvers about 8 months before. This time the band hoped to have better success against her and her animated puppets and not let her get away.

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Part Six: Loose Ends - Chapter 5

It was in the very early hours of Godsday, the 4th day of Harvester, in the Common Year of 579, that the Righteous Vanguard was able to track down the location of Branko’s base of operations. It was a non-descript house deep at the center of the foreign quarter where the presence of the Thieves’ Guild was not as prevalent as it was in other quarters of the city. Here, the Righteous Vanguard snuck into a makeshift treasure room through a secret tunnel from the sewers and began spying on Branko’s men and formulating a plan of attack. Unfortunately, they were unaware that their intrusion into Branko’s hideout had not gone undetected and that, while they were busy observing Branko’s men, Branko was likewise observing them. As a result, the band’s plan of attack was thrown into disarray from the very beginning and the final outcome of the lengthy battle seemed to be highly uncertain throughout the majority of it. Many times during the grim struggle did the thoughts of ultimate defeat, or of Branko’s escaping, encroach upon the minds of our intrepid heroes.

But this battle, which felt as though it lasted for hours according to some of those who survived it, yet in reality only consumed a matter of minutes, is best described by one who took part in the bloody conflict. Though for much of the battle, due to powers beyond his control, there seemed to be some doubt about which side he actually fought for. It seems most fitting then perhaps that it was by the sword of Kieranen, that the conniving manipulator Branko finally met his doom.

The following is an excerpt from the Journal of Kieranen of The Righteous Vanguard: Kieranen’s Journal-Entry 4

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