Tales of the Righteous Vanguard

Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part Seven: Vale of the Mage - Chapter 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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