Rumors began to circulate in 1510 that the end of the world was nigh. An ancient prophecy, the Scroll of Hyskosa, was found detailing the six events that would herald the "Night of Evil." These events began coming true, one-by-one, over the latter half of 1510. In the spring of 1511, great and momentous changes began occurring on Grund. All Greater Divination magicks ceased working. Clerics found it increasingly difficult to receive spells from their gods, and some of their granted powers gradually began to fail. Astral and ethereal travel was cut off, followed by difficulty in teleportation. It was as if the Heavens were being slowly isolated from the mortal world.
The good archmages of Southold, the Conclave of Wizards, decided to investigate the cause of this disturbance. Through their secret research, they were able to uncover what they thought to be the source of the threat to Grund. In a raid on 4 Tarsakh 1511, the Conclave inadvertently released the dread Arch-Lich Vecna from his burial mound. Gondal, Mekkarri, Amstard, Otliuke, and Zenjik were all slain by the Whispered One. Of course, Vecna has been the proclaimed shadowy ruler of the Cortalish Empire for centuries, so his "release"--had any living soul known of it--would have been considered quite mysterious.
Thus with the backdrop of recent Southron victories in the Third Cortalish War and invasions of the drow, united under House Everhate, against the Galathiene, did the group calling itself the Intrepid Paragon enter the picture. They were a combination of the two noted adventuring companies; the Bywater Six and the Miscreants, currently down to only Greywolf, Gunter, Elmo, Elsinor, and Drazen. Following request from (the now-deceased) Gondal in a letter, band foiled an assassination ring in Bywater, led by the infamous Banite high priest Colstan Rhuul. Rhuul, an ancient nemesis of the Bywater Six, managed, as always it seems, to escape. Rhuul had occupied the merchant mansion of Carmon Dieg, slaying its occupants, and started assembling many assassins there, planning to strike to coincide with a series of unspecified disturbances that were to occur, in order to sow indecision and terror in Bywater. The most fearsome battle the band fought was against a great earth monolith, the mightiest of elementals, which pounded Elmo into the dirt in two blows, and chased Gunter around the streets of Bywater. The ex-gladiator took refuge in the Bywater Six’s old home, Blaskor’s Retreat, which the monolith heavily damaged, before Gunter and the powerful bartender, Blaskor, defeated him. Back at Dieg Manor, the band found an enigmatic letter penned by Rhuul which referred to some great "disturbance" that would come in the following months. In the undelivered letter, Rhuul complained to his Banite superiors in the Cortalish Empire that he had been provided with no details as to the great foretold "disturbance" of Emperor Vecna. The merchant Dieg was soon resurrected, thanking his benefactors.
In an attack seemingly unrelated to Vecna’s Disjunction, the Intrepid Paragon was ambushed in the streets of Bywater by the Fire Wizard lich Pomeranian. Many months earlier, in the Cortalish Empire, the band had slain the lich in a pitched battle and taken his Pipes of Doom, a minor evil artifact that induced great fear over an entire battlefield. The lich had come seeking his Pipes, which Greywolf carried, yet was again vanquished. Still, in his dying breath, Pomeranian vowed to return to reclaim that which was his.
The adventurers brought the scant information they had discovered about Vecna's imminent "disturbance" to Gondal's College of War Wizardry, not knowing the archmage of Bywater had been slain in Vecna's distant tomb and that Wizard Liet had taken over his position. They then traveled to Southold's capital, Dunthrane, arriving on 25 Tarsakh. The Paragon discovered that the other Conclave members were dead, save Bigby, who was in extra-dimensional hiding. After speaking to the Assistant Dean of the Dunthrane Arcane Academy, Kieren Jalucian, the adventurers set up a meeting with Bigby through eldritch means. Alas, the adventurers were soon ambushed by a band of cultists of Vecna. They were led by two particularly fearsome creatures, the Eye, whose head was a large, staring eye, and the Hand, a warrior whose head was replaced with a huge, grasping hand. Greywolf was trapped by the Hand, and nearly had all his strength drained from him. The adventurers eventually turned the tide, and pursued the Eye
and Hand down the streets of Dunthrane. But in the chase, the Eye stared at Drazen, and his soul was ripped from his body. The creatures escaped in the sewers, leaving Drazen's soulless, but living, body. Upon examining the corpses, the adventurers found that the cultists all wore strange charms around their necks; a hand with an eye in its palm.
The following night, the Eye and Hand struck again, infiltrating Dory's Spice Shop and stealing the soul of the sleeping Gunter before being driven off. Gunter was kept at the House of the Just One, the center of Tyr's faith, and Drazen at the Temple of Nuada, until their souls could hopefully be regained. Some time after his soul was ripped from him, Drazen reverted from his human to drow form, and it was generally acknowledged that the Wizard would have some explaining to do when and if he awoke. At this point, Greywolf decided to recruit some aid as the ranks of the Intrepid Paragon had been decimated. In particular, he sought his old traveling companions from his days in the Miscreants. He managed to acquire the aid of several adventurers; Mortal, Wildcard, Fharo, Kliff, and Hernando. He also gathered a few friends of the Bywater Six, the hulking warrior, Cameron Gaunt, and Elsinor's half-brother, Delsel, as well as Drake, the shady partner of Brazzamel the red dragon.
After assembling this stronger band, the Intrepid Paragon attempted to complete the job the Conclave of Wizards had begun. Research about what to do next included informative visits to the local temples of Tyr, Shinare, and Mask, as well as asking around the Dock Quarter. In particular, Dunthrane's libraries provided much information, as the adventurers examined the books the Conclave members had taken out, and soon learned what the Conclave had discovered.
They soon discerned that the Conclave had located the whereabouts of Vecna's burial place, and concluded that they must have been slain there. Yet again the paradox arose--surely Vecna ruled the Cortalish Empire, and was not entombed in some burial mound. Following information they gathered from interrogating a Vistani rogue, Yagos Slevak, the Intrepid Paragon decided to go to the heart of the Cult of Vecna. They were surprised to find that it was not in Gos, the capital of the Cortalish Empire--where Vecna was but a demigod of Bane, the state religion. Instead, Vecna’s exclusive cult, not acknowledging Bane, was based in Alesia, an ethnic Southron client state of the corrupt and formerly glorious Videssian Empire, just north of Southold.
Adding to this information, Elsinor divulged a prophecy he had been given while trapped in Faerie months before. "Following, never catching, chasing you shall be--and chased too. A sleeper awakens. Grund is thrown into turmoil for a third time because of it. But who is the pretender, and who lurks in the shadows? The signs are nigh -- time is short. The Night of Evil descends in few moons. Who shall win the ultimate prize and can the deathless blade avert it?"
With many seemingly conflicting prophecies and accounts to sift through, the Intrepid Paragon traveled north on the River Greyflood, aboard the sleek boat of a crusty, peg-legged sailor by the name of Turrim Varostak. The barge's swiftness was enhanced by Elmo's magically summoned winds. There were several attacks by fire falcons, a favorite tool of the Cortalish Fire Wizards, as well as some other creatures, but these were warded off.
The band reached Alesia in record time on 14 Mirtul. This land was populated by ethnic Southrons, but ruled by a small Videssian minority--in effect a colony of Videssos kept down by the sword and an unfriendly venue for visiting Southolders. After canvassing the local bars, the band eventually decided to head outside town, to a lone inn. There, lured by a planted tale of supernatural activity at an abandoned quarry, they were led into an ambush prepared by cultists of Vecna. Mortal met his doom here, a victim of repeated spells and poisoned arrows from the servants of the Whispered One. Yet the Intrepid Paragon prevailed in the end, and interrogated one of the cultists, discovering the location of the secret Temple of Vecna in Alesia.
The following day, they prepared their assault. After doing some initial scouting, the Intrepid Paragon decided it would be their turn to spring an ambush. The band burst into the huge underground temple, with the sailor Turrim Varostak limping close behind them. Elmo cast a Rock to Mud spell, destroying the altar, while other spells engulfed the area in flames. It was a long struggle, as there were
dozens of Vecna worshippers within of all ranges of power. In particular, there were the Hand and Eye manifestations, the High Priestess of Vecna, and the Whispered One himself, complete with the Hand and Eye artifacts.
A mighty battle raged just beneath the streets of Alesia. In the midst of it all, Turrim Varostak, no longer limping, effortlessly moved through the melee, the combatants parting to either side of him in awe. He approached "Vecna," who vainly tried to use the powers of the Hand and Eye against him, but they would not function--not against their true master. "Turrim" slew the false Vecna--for so he obviously was, an ancient petty king named Halamader deceived by the artifacts into believing that he was the true Whispered One. Halamader had come here after being awoken in the burial mound in Osnabrolt, and the cultists had worshipped him as Vecna returned. Turrim plucked the Eye and Hand from the pretender's corpse, and attached them to himself, though his manifestation seemed not to change in appearance. The High Priestess, Diraq, begged for forgiveness, as she and the congregation had been deceived into worshipping the “false Vecna” Halamader.
Momentarily ignoring her, Turrim Varostak turned to the adventurers and said, "Know my 'allies', that I am the true Vecna. Thanks to your aid, I shall reign supreme in the Heavens. I shall not kill you--let it be said that Vecna is a generous god. Indeed, because you have been such faithful servants I shall make you great and powerful over all of Arik. Come to Tovag Baragu and collect your reward!" With that, he told the High Priestess that she must destroy this Temple to the false Vecna and sacrifice her own life to prove her worthiness to the true demigod.
Vecna teleported away, and an instant later, Diraq cast an Earthquake which brought down the ceiling on the temple. Greywolf and Fharo fell into deep fissures and died, while the rest were pelted with stony debris as the ceiling fell away revealing the Alesian evening sky. The High Priestess Diraq was slain before escaping, and the Paragon bodies were recovered, but the rest had to flee as Videssian guards began pouring towards the ruined temple. The band paused outside Alesia to consider their options.
Drake, having no interest in thwarting Vecna and having narrowly survived the Eye's gaze, took his share of loot and left the group, returning to Brazamal's lair. Delsel reluctantly returned to the Galathiene to fight the Drow, and Cameron, his leave over, returned to his Flaming Fist Battalion in Bywater. Wildcard teleported Mortal back to Irrudium to be resurrected, but alas the great warrior had to remain in the highlands to quell a Videssian incursion into Clan McGillahan territory. The rest of the party decided to break up for three weeks to complete training and resurrections, reassembling in Dunthrane in early Kythorn.
Wildcard also teleported Greywolf to Dunthrane and had him resurrected by the High Priest of Tyr, Stephen Menote. The Patriarch said that he too was greatly concerned with the turn of events, as they might signify the Neldoreth--the apocalyptic final battle of the gods. He had sent other adventuring groups, notably Thingol & Company and Gaston's Gallants to try to foil other aspects of the plot, in particular to forestall the last two precursors of the Night of Evil which was foretold by Hyskosa. Greywolf promised to relay via Sending spells any valuable information he might discover.
Gunter, whose soul-drained body had been at the Temple of Tyr, had left the Temple looking for the Paragon as soon as the Eye had been slain the previous day. Given the lack of divination magic, Gunter's location simply could not be determined, though Drazen, who had also been soul-drained, was imprisoned upon awaking at the Temple of Nuada where Greywolf found him. The necromancer, revealed to be a drow, admitted that he was an exile from the Underdark, but that he was committed to Nuada’s cause.
Soon after, Greywolf was summoned by an old friend to Tara, where he Drazen, and Delsel confronted and defeated the curse of Wescote Manor. Destroying the Ghost of Ann Campbell, the Moor Hound, and ridding Burton Wescote's curse seemed to have no relation to the matter at hand though. Yet Greywolf discovered that when he had passed through Mordentshire the year before on the trail of Count Victor von Drakov, two separate agents had followed him asking questions of those whom he had talked to; one agent was obviously from the Cult of Vecna by his tattoo, but the second stalker was from an unknown group. This information raised more troubling questions than it answered; who was the second party that had been shadowing them?
Meanwhile, Elmo Oakly teleported the rest of the band back to Bywater, save Kliff, who ran back. They teleported to the ruins of the Intrepid Paragon mansion, which had been leveled months before by the Fire Wizard Lich Pomeranian in a rampage searching for his stolen Pipes of Doom.
At the Church of Nuada's insistence, Elmo flew in the form of a falcon to the Cortalish Empire where Bywater's Third Expeditionary Army was in pursuit of the Cortal forces. Baron Elrich, the Third's commander, had just had his camp attacked by the Fire Wizard Dimitri Kuropatkin, and he had Fire Gated out with two of his chief lieutenants, Captain Creose of Urml and Inquisitor-Captain Greylin Lofalkin. Elmo, Calvin the scout, and a smuggler named Corsair infiltrated the Cortal lines and attacked the Fire Wizard's Tower, rescuing the prisoners and capturing Cortal troop dispositions. These indicated heavy Cortal reinforcements massing just behind the fighting. Baron Elrich joined Elmo and teleported back to Bywater to oppose Vecna's plans, reluctantly leaving Sir Greylin in command of the Third.
Meanwhile, Kliff and Hernando visited Skullport to obtain the services of their business partner and ex-adventuring comrade, Khoresh. Elsinor traveled into the Galathiene to recruit the former-Miscreant wizard, Stonne. While he was able to convince the elven wizard to travel to Bywater and aid the Intrepid Paragon, Elsinor himself was arrested by King Leafsong's guards. No details were given about the mysterious incarceration, and given the dearth of time, the Intrepid Paragon had to leave efforts for his release to the Rangers of Arden, who sent their own emissaries to the Galathiene.
With each passing day, the sky grew more and more dull gray, as the Great Disjunction between Grund and the Heavens progressed. Gathered in Bywater were the clerics Greywolf and Elrich, the warriors Kliff and Khoresh, the wizards Wildcard, Elmo, Drazen, and Stonne, as well as the noted rogue Hernando. And so, on 6 Kythorn, the Intrepid Paragon prepared to march against the Whispered One's machinations once more. The band would travel to the burial mound where the Vecna pretender Halamader had been released by the Conclave of Wizards, hoping to discover clues about the real Vecna’s plot.
Baron Elrich, upon returning to Bywater, spoke first with the Grand Marshal, Anaximenes, and then the former-Grand Marshal Anaximander, his former patron. Anaximander had fallen from power a few years earlier when he was blamed for the overzealousness of the Anorien Inquisition. He was very
sympathetic to Elrich's warnings about Vecna, and soon decided to entrust his most treasured possession to his former protégé, a set of silver Gauntlets of Ogre Power. A few nights before their scheduled departure from Bywater, the entire Intrepid Paragon were snatched from their various locations by some sort of eldritch transport. They were in Halaster's Great Game, in the depths of Undermountain--the great wizard would see them fight each other for his entertainment. The band was split into "good" and "evil" sides, and then put into the contests. The first was a series of individual races through a maze, and the second was a mass battle. The good side narrowly won the race, but was bested in the battle. After this seemingly meaningless sport at Halaster's whim, everyone returned to their former locations, all their wounds mystically healed.
There were various preparations by the Paragon in the days before they set out, but all were overshadowed by the arrival of an old friend in Blaskor's Retreat. It was none other than Caius Vipsanius Agrippa, the Videssian mage who had once been a member of the Miscreants before being turned into a vampire by the infamous Count Victor von Drakov. He soon rejoined the fold in the quest against Vecna. In fact, he aided the band that very night by creating Spectral Steeds to travel upon. Of course, the Paragon could only travel at night given their new member, and the vampire's coffin was kept within the band’s legendary Portable Hole. His feeding habits would also cause much consternation and debate.
The band became lost in the night on two occasions, and landed beside the Forest of Arden. To facilitate navigation and avoid the towering Veronian Mountains, the band flew through the Great Pass into Hule, and then north along the far side of the Veronian foothills. On the way, they encountered and slew a yellow desert dragon, but not before its breath destroyed Baron Elrich's highly enchanted shield. The band advanced to the dwarven village of Kron, and then traveled onward to Osnabrolt.
The dwarven elder there, an aged matriarch named Gudrune, told of how the village had been devastated by a tall, dark human. This attack had occurred just after some mages (the Conclave of Wizards) traveled through and asked the location of an ancient burial mound. The Paragon surmised that the Conclave had traveled to the tomb, then released the "false" Vecna, the one with the Hand and
Eye artifacts, also known as Halamader. This false Vecna then devastated the nearby village of Osnabrolt.
The Intrepid Paragon asked about the enchanted sword that Osnabrolt was said to guard. They eventually convinced Gudrune to reveal its location, so long as they became members of the Dwarven Blackhammer clan. Several of the Paragon helped rebuild the village for a few days.
Meanwhile, Agrippa, Elsinor, and Drazen undertook a mission to aid the dwarves of Osnabrolt, to demonstrate their worthiness for clan membership. The trio traveled to an abandoned temple of Bhaal, Lord of Murder, which was inhabited by a Mountain Giant and his humanoid henchmen. They had a superbly organized defense, complete with rolling boulders, missile troops, and planned ambushes. The trio eventually defeated the Temple's defenders at the cost of Elsinor's life, and penetrated the inner sanctum deep beneath it. They desecrated the mysterious evil heart of the shrine, which soon resulted in its destruction.
With their worthiness proven to join Clan Blackhammer, came a test of endurance and purification by the sacred rites of Reorx. The Paragon fasted for a day, and then, garbed only in plain purification gowns, they entered the sweat lodge. The ritual soon turned into a trial of endurance, as one-by-one the Paragon members succumbed to the heat, steam and lack of water. They had bizarre, lifelike dreams and hallucinations.
Baron Elrich alone did not succumb to the terrible heat. At one point, Hernando attempted to leave the hut invisibly, but was struck by a mighty bolt of lightning. Based on the visions that were seen, most of which were darkly prophetic, each member of the band was given a new Clan Blackhammer name. They were as follows--Drazen: DeathWalker, Elrich: WarPriest, Greywolf: DwarfSirer, Hernando: QuickFingers, Khoresh: SeaLover, Kliff: BirdMan, Stonne: KinSlayer, Wildcard: LostOne.
The band was then escorted into the sacred room where the enchanted sword was kept by the Clan. As they watched, the Sword of Kas, the artifact of Vecna's Lieutenant from the First Cortalish War, rose of its own accord from the ground. Several tried to grasp it, but were driven back by a great shock, until Khoresh grabbed the massive two-handed sword a second time. Then it attuned to him, and instantly, Khoresh knew the location of Vecna--over a thousand miles to the northwest, at the stone circles of Tovag Baragu in the midst of the vast Yazakh Plains. Several hours later, a mysterious fire occurred in Osnabrolt, and Maldo, Gudrune's son, perished in the flames.
Despite this tragedy, the Intrepid Paragon's adoption ceremony into Clan Blackhammer was held that night. A Prismatic Wall suddenly appeared dividing the settlement--and the Intrepid Paragon--in two; attacking on one side was Colstan Rhuul, some Banite priests, and several undead and mercenaries. On the other side was Pomeranian, the Fire Wizard Lich from the Cortalish Empire, as well as a platoon of Plamyasoldati, the elite Cortal "fire soldiers." This division of attack revealed the well-known differences between the Southolder Banites and the Cortals, who are both allied by their allegiance to Bane in principle, but rarely in practice. Still, they attacked, and had evidently followed the band all the way to Osnabrolt.
The battle was fierce on both sides, though Wildcard wisely cast a Dig spell beneath the Prismatic Wall to aid in communication between the two sides. The dwarves of Osnabrolt again took a heavy beating, though their Battle-ragers and Gudrune's Hearth guards put up a desperate fight for their home. Pomeranian was accompanied by Dimitri Kuropatkin, the Fire Wizard that Calvin, Elmo, and Corsair had faced in their raid on his tower weeks before. He had since been transformed into a minor vassalich, and he and his apprentices cast spells throughout the battle.
On the other side, Kliff found to his dismay that Colstan was not without his Banite comrade, Kalathan. This drow master assassin, striking invisibly and with an envenomed blade, nearly slew the barbarian in a blow. Yet the battle raged on, with Agrippa the vampire at one point controlled by Colstan Rhuul's Banite powers. However, with the considerable aid of the dwarves, the Banites were slowly beaten back.
On the Cortal side, Baron Elrich charged forward and attacked Pomeranian himself. But the lich stunned the Nuadan Baron with a single enchanted word, and then Imprisoned him in the depths of Grund with a mighty spell. The lich, by now heavily wounded, then said he would release Elrich if the Intrepid Paragon would give back his Pipes of Doom. They refused. The lich collapsed dead, promising to return again to hound the band as soon as he could occupy another body at his bottle back in the Empire.
At this point, Colstan Rhuul decided to flee, taking with him Kalathan and the now-controlled Agrippa. Meanwhile, the sound of an earth Monolith, the most powerful of elementals, was heard. Months earlier, such a beast had slain Elmo in two pounds of its mighty fists, and had chased Gunter around the streets of Bywater. The Intrepid Paragon began fleeing in terror, yet Stonne cast a single wild magic spell, Nahal's Reckless Dweomer. For once, the unpredictable magic worked better than expected, disintegrating the Monolith utterly in a stroke of incredible luck. The band began tending to their wounds, as the dwarves gathered their numerous dead.
A time later, Agrippa returned, bearing a message from Colstan Rhuul. The Banite priest, who so often had fought the Bywater Six, explained he had a common cause with the adventurers against Vecna. He had merely attacked because he heard of the band's quest against Vecna, and Kalathan had seen them emerge with the legendary Sword of Kas. While Pomeranian had merely cared about retrieving his Pipes of Doom, their official Banite orders, which he produced, said they should get the Sword of Kas, or failing that, join with the Paragon against the Whispered One. The priests of Bane back in the Cortalish Empire realized that Vecna was responsible for the isolation of the Heavens from Grund, and was betraying Bane--in whose name he had ruled the Empire. After much debate, the two parties made an uneasy truce, and agreed to work together until the Whispered One's plans were foiled.
The band decided to travel to the burial mound of Halamader, hoping to rescue the archmages of Southold, who had evidently met their doom there after releasing the false Vecna. Based on Gudrune's directions, they approached the burial mound. About half a mile away, they engaged a patrol of Manscorpions, a half-man, half-scorpion race that inhabit desert climes. After eliminating the patrol, the band approached the burial mound itself, which had evidently been converted into a lair for the creatures. The Paragon slowly fought their way forward, while attacked from behind by several Dune Stalkers who burrowed their way up and blew deafening waves of sound at them.
After dispatching many Manscorpions, the band spotted eleven Desert Giants running toward the mound. Wildcard placed a Wall of Force before the entrance as they arrived. Meanwhile, the last Manscorpion mage, in a desperate move, threw the last of his Necklace of Missiles, creating a huge explosion in the enclosed area, and bringing the ceiling down on the aging mound. A fight soon broke out with the Giants outside, as there was a gaping hole where the ceiling of the burial mound had once been.
The battle was desperate, at various points both Wildcard and Khoresh were nearly slain. Still, the Intrepid Paragon triumphed against these powerful bandits, as the last pair fled off into the desert. Returning to the burial mound, the adventurers discovered that the leaders of the Manscorpion swarm and their entourage had fled through a small tunnel. Still, thinking the adventurers were right outside and ready to burst in, they had apparently left most of their considerable riches. Yet, while there were signs of a wizard's duel on the blackened walls of the tomb, there were no signs of the Conclave's bodies or items. A meticulous search yielded a single silver-gray strand of hair, which Greywolf Resurrected. It was Gondal who returned from the dead, haughty as ever.
Still, in gratitude for the Intrepid Paragon's action, he agreed to try to destroy the Pipes of Doom, as well as offering them each a potion of his choice from his stock in Bywater. The band trudged back to Osnabrolt, where Gondal cast Freedom to release the Imprisoned Baron Elrich, and he emerged from beneath Grund. Gondal then used flying magic to return to Bywater, where he promised to deal with his former lieutenant, Liet, who had assumed control of his College of War Wizardry. He said he would also try to establish contact with the head of the Conclave, Bigby, who was in extra-dimensional hiding while he coordinated efforts against Vecna's plot. The plot was evidently far advanced, as clerics gradually began losing their power to channel the gods' energies in their spells.
At Osnabrolt, the Paragon saw an exodus underway, the dwarves were forever abandoning their cursed village. Between the attacks of Halamader and then Pomeranian, the settlement had lost two-thirds of its population. Gudrune, the Matriarch, bid the Intrepid Paragon farewell--unlike some of the other dwarves, she did not blame them for Clan Blackhammer's misfortunes, and besides, they would forevermore be honorary clan members in her eyes. If nothing else, their actions had meant that the terrible doom that had bound Clan Blackhammer--protecting both the Sword, and the location of the burial mound of Halamader--had been fulfilled to some good purpose.
It remained a seemingly terrible coincidence that both the Eye and Hand, as well as the Sword of Kas had been interred but miles from each other for decades. Meanwhile, Khoresh was urged on by the Sword of Kas to travel a thousand miles to the north-west. There he instinctively knew that Vecna was waiting, in the midst of the steppes of the Yazakh Khanate in the stone circles known as Tovag Baragu. The blade egged him--and the Intrepid Paragon--on to a final confrontation with the Whispered One.
They flew on arcane steeds provided by Agrippa, and after traversing hundreds of miles, landed in the vast expanse of the Yazakh Khanate. Great plains of grassland stretched as far as the eye could see. An ambush of plains trolls attacked their camp, but was swiftly dispatched. Finally, the band reached the legendary stone circle of Tovag Baragu. There were several tribes of Yazakh plainsmen, all gathered around the massive stone circles. None dared disturb them in any way. Indeed, as the band discussed the merits of various types of approach, Khoresh, holding the massive Sword of Kas aloft, boldly strode forward. The rest reluctantly fell into line. The gathered plainsmen pushed to the side, letting them pass without so much as a word. The band walked slowly but surely through to the center of the circle, feeling the magic course through this sacred place. There, at the center, was Vecna himself--no longer in the guise of Turrim Varostak, the one legged ship captain, but in his more familiar guise as the Lich Emperor of the Cortalish Empire. He was a demigod among mortals, in a world isolated from the heavens where his was the greatest power of all. He ignored them entirely until they drew to the inner circle of blue-gray sarsen stones.
Before they attacked the Whispered One, who ignored them in rapt concentration, the band saw images in the inner arches of the stones. They appeared to be scrying at three recognizable scenes, meetings of the leadership of Southold in the Church of Tyr, the leadership of the Cortalish Empire, and that of the Videssian Empire. The Southold scene revealed the Patriarch of Tyr, Stephen Menote, discussing the Cortalish war with Lord High Marshal Ethelwulf. The war was going well, with the Cortals fighting a desultory delaying action before their capital, Gos. Yet Ethelwulf believed the enemy was hoarding reinforcements and feared some trickery. He agreed to dispatch the Third Bywater Expeditionary Army, as well as the famed adventurers of Thingol & Company, to aid the Intrepid Paragon in the fight to stop Vecna.
Meanwhile, in Gos, the Cortal military leadership under Field Marshal von Moltke, the Fire Wizards under Arch-Mage Malec-Keth and the Banite clergy under High Priest Fzoul Chembryl discussed Vecna’s prolonged absence from the Spidered Throne. The three factions agreed that Vecna had betrayed his patron Bane, and sought full godhood for himself. The factions had already dispatched the Southron Banite Priest Colstan Rhuul to temporarily ally with the Intrepid Paragon to defeat their former Emperor, and now dispatched the 39th Dog Soldier Regiment with augmented, elite Plamyasoldati and undead, under the overall command of the Lich Pomeranian. Pomeranian was admonished not to let his personal desire to recover his stolen Pipes of Doom overrule his orders, which were to cooperate with the Intrepid Paragon until Vecna was defeated. He could not know that the Paragon had finally destroyed the accursed Pipes, as a favor from Gondal the Archmage for resurrecting him.
The final scene in the arches was in Videssos, where the Donablan clergy believed the Neldoreth, the end of the world, was at hand. The Videssians refused to intervene militarily in Southold, or at the stones of Tovag Baragu, as they did not know of Vecna’s plot. They did note that the 9th Cabal of demon-worshipping mages, that of the Nameless One, had seen a purge in its leadership. The new Magus Ippisimus was the vampire Caius Vipsanius Agrippa. He had slain his predecessor and purged the Cabal of his enemies. Strangely, a former Cortal Fire Wizard, Vladimir Antonovich Smitchkoff, had also joined the ranks of the 9th Cabal at the same time. So it was that Vecna--and the Intrepid Paragon--learned the plans of those who plotted against him; he knew of the Paragon’s approach, of their army, and of the Cortal Army’s approach.
Finally, he turned away from the scenes and deigned to take note of the intruders in the circle. He told the Intrepid Paragon they had no chance against one such as he, and that soon he would be the only true god ruling Grund. Khoresh, in a crazed frenzy because of the Sword of Kas, attacked, but Vecna laughed off the band’s blows, toying with them. The Sword itself lost all powers whenever it approached within striking distance of Vecna, as if it had been preset with this restriction against harming its creator. The Paragon fought valorously, but to no avail, for what chance do the blades and spells of unaided mortals have against a god? Vecna leisurely Wished one after another into paralyzed positions, but not before casting Mordenkainen’s Disjunction, destroying several of the band’s magic items.
He thanked the band for their help, for leading him in the form of Turrim Varostak, to his Eye and Hand, which had been magically hidden from him. For this he offered to make any of them his lieutenant if they would kill the others. When none stepped forward, he spoke of disposing of them in a place where they would live out their lives in despair. He cast them all through one of the gates depicted in the stone circle.
One-by-one, the Paragon appeared on the Quasielemental plane of Ash, where they were nearly slain by the lack of air and the various elementals present. Yet they prevailed, gaining a powerful Staff of the Elements from the leader of the creatures. They were confined in a place called Citadel Cavitius, a city in the shape of a huge human skull. This was where Vecna consigned those who had crossed him, to live out their lives in torment. After several encounters with the denizens, the Paragon decided that rather than trying to overthrow the demon guards, the thing to do was to speak with Vecna’s old and famous enemy, Kas. Thought long-dead by even Vecna, the old warrior had survived, at the cost of becoming a vampire. He and his entourage, a menagerie of undead including the infamous elven vampire archer Armon Leafbane once in Victor von Drakov’s employ, had little interest in parlay. Yet he did eventually agreed to speak with the band, and was slowly convinced to use the additional powers of the Sword of Kas, which only he who had been attuned to it for so long, to escape.
He did this at the condition of fighting Kliff and Khoresh in a duel, and handily defeated both, though he gave Khoresh his own enchanted sword to use against Vecna. Try as they might, the party could not convince Kas to fight his old master a second time. Kas would transport the band back to Tovag Baragu, the only place “open” to interplanar travel, and only then with this artifact of Vecna’s own manufacture. He would then sneak into the night, leaving them to fight the Whispered One. He told of his own fight with Vecna, how centuries ago the Sword of Kas had failed him, but he had interrupted Vecna’s power ritual, wrestling him to the floor in the midst of it, causing a cataclysmic explosion. He counseled that as mortals, they could not hope to destroy Vecna in combat, but disrupting him at a critical moment, perhaps at the cost of their own lives, might stop him.
The band was intercepted in interplanar transit to Tovag Baragu and arrived in a strange realm, likely a demi-plane or pocket dimension of some type, appearing as an island floating in a sea of lava. There stood an iron citadel, and within, the aged god Donablas, Lord of Time and Prophecy, leader of the gods of Neutrality. Donablas related that Vecna had gone too far, and would tip the Balance towards evil, and thus must be stopped. Of the gods, Donablas alone, the Lord of Prophecy, had foreseen the Night of Evil, the Great Disjunction. Unlike the rest of the gods on the outer planes, he had created this demi-plane, dimensionally nearby to Tovag Baragu to prepare for this day. To have intervened personally would have contravened the rules the greater gods had set after the Godswar against direct intervention, and would have alerted Vecna.
Donablas sent several of the band into the future to retrieve an artifact, an enchanted mirror, which would be needed to defeat Vecna, though Donablas would not say why, proclaiming that such was beyond the comprehension of mortals and they would be told when the time was right. It was a dark time when Vecna had conquered the world and become the supreme god, transforming Grund into the gray and foreboding Lichworld. Healing failed them, the dead walked during the pall that passed for day, and everywhere was despair. The band found that this particular part of Vecna’s empire was ruled by a certain Lichtor--Caius Vipsanius Agrippa--who had survived the battle with Vecna and become his chief lieutenant. The band was captured and brought before this Lichtor, who let his old friends go. They learned of their future selves’ exploits, the Thieves Guild that named their best thief “The Hernando,” the guerrilla resistance group named the “Black Arrows” after their founder, and the martyr cult of Elsinor, who had sacrificed himself to lessen Vecna’s power ever so slightly. They read the harrowing tale from Hernando’s Diary that told of their futile battle at Tovag Baragu, and they vowed not to behave such that this doom might come true.
The small band traveled to the wasted area where the mirror was said to be found. They crossed a blasted wasteland, stumbling on the grave of Greywolf, and fought the denizens therein, winning the mirror. They then crossed back through a portal to their own time. Yet they had a temporal stowaway--the Lichtor Agrippa--who had allowed them to leave in order to return to their time, slipped through.
When the party re-emerged from the their journey, at the original destination of their voyage from Vecna’s prison plane of Citadel Cavitius, the rogue Fire Wizard, Vladimir Antonovich Smitchkoff, greeted them and flew them to Bywater. He had once crossed swords with the Intrepid Paragon at diplomatic confrontation in a small swamp enclave called the Ffenargh on an unrelated mission, but now said he too opposed Vecna, serving Donablas. Once back in Bywater, the band prepared for the final battle with Vecna. The Southold government was beginning to see the threat, and dispatched several high-powered assets to aid in the quest; just as the Intrepid Paragon had seen in the scried scenes at Tovag Baragu. The premier adventuring company of the land, Thingol & Company, was dispatched, as was Baron Elrich’s Third Bywater Expeditionary Army, a compact but battle-hardened band of Southold’s finest. Most of the party marched north to join with the army, which had already begun the long march to the Yazakh Khanate and the stones of Tovag Baragu. Only Greywolf, Agrippa and Hernando made it safely--the others’ flying creatures were repeatedly struck down by aerial servants and had to make a forced march which did not allow them to join the initial fighting. The other adventurers joined a second wave of reinforcements for the Third recruited by the adventurers, which soon set off marching to join their comrades.
The three marched through the gray pall that had descended on the world as panic spread in their beloved Bywater, as all proclaimed that the end of the world was nigh. Chaos ruled; soldiers deserted their regiments, crime was rampant, all thought the gods had abandoned them. New groups of mystics called Flagellants arose, so named because they whipped themselves and trod barefoot in only poor burlap robes, seemingly immune to pain. They wandered the lands proclaiming the organized clergy had failed the gods, who had in turn had forsaken Grund and they proclaimed that the end would come at the holy day of Midsummer, only twenty-three days away.
The three who had flown ahead reached the Third’s vanguard just as it crossed the Yazakh Khanate frontier on 7 Flamerule, and joined the acting commander, their own former companion Inquisitor-Captain Sir Greylin Lofalkin. They decided they needed to seize a supply base across the river which formed the frontier. The band chose the city Liara, whose Khan, Rivtoff, was known not to trust his new overlord Vecna. Nonetheless, Vecna’s agents, who included the Cortalish Fire Wizard Archmage Andrei Zhadanov, had sown the story that the Southrons were here to conquer, and so the Khan decided to fight.
Agrippa cast a Wall of Stone to create a bridge across the river, and the Third marched on Liara. The battle was fierce, and initially frustrating as the Yazakh skirmishers and their elite horse archers pelted the Southrons with impunity. But when the Knights of Nuada reached the enemy line on the right, and Cameron Gaunt’s Flaming Fist Mercenary Battalion reached the left, the light Yazakh infantry crumbled. The stirring tale of the Battle of Liara was recorded by the bard Anson Adams, another in the many triumphs of the Third. Khan Rivtoff, who had disliked Vecna in the first place, agreed with the Southrons to defend his territory from incursions from other Yazakh clans, though he would not march against his brothers--thus the Third’s supply base was secured. He also dispatched a messenger to another Khan allied with him, Timur, exhorting him not to listen to Vecna’s promises of power and not to oppose the Southron army.
Rivtoff explained how Vecna had corrupted the twelve clans of the Yazakh Khanate during their yearly plainmoot at Tovag Baragu, promising them great power. He had bolstered their ranks with personally loyal Cortalish dog soldiers, had provided limited heavy armor for each Khan’s Household Guard, and most importantly, had placed a Fire Wizard liaison with each clan to keep them in line. He explained that there were always three clans of Yazakh warriors encamped around Tovag Baragu, and other clans guarded the few passes that opened onto the Great Escarpment, on which Tovag Baragu lies, and still others guarded the crossings of the River Kush. The odds seemed insurmountable, but the Third Bywater Expeditionary Army pressed on.
The Third marched past another city, whose field army came out to meet them. Greywolf, Hernando, Agrippa, and Greylin came out to meet them. The cruel Khan Bolshnik too disliked Vecna, and offered safe passage to the Third in return for a task. It involved removing an ancient curse upon him. The small party traveled into the Koshka Bluffs and soon discovered an excavation of a mummy’s tomb was the cause of the curse on Khan Bolshnik, as he had received artifacts plundered from it. After fighting through the dungeon, at one point Agrippa relaxed in a glass coffin, and promptly had part of his spirit drained from him, the essence of his memory of other people, and placed in a Ka jar; an integral step in the mummification process. As a result, the vampire’s evil nature took over, unfettered by his former loyalty to his friends, and he fought a running battle with them. They eventually made a truce as they fought to a stalemate, and after long musing on what to do, the band found the Ka jar, Agrippa inhaled his essence, and became his normal, evil--but occasionally loyal--self. The battle with the mummy herself was joined in the inner sanctum, with Greylin bravely, and nearly suicidally, leaping through a magic barrier to attack the dead priestess. With her destruction, the curse was lifted from Khan Bolshnik, and the Bolshnik Clan allowed the Third Bywater Expeditionary Army to pass without a fight, claiming they had “evaded” them to Vecna’s lieutenants.
The Third paused for resupply, while its reinforcements, accompanied by the rest of the Intrepid Paragon, crossed the Yazakh frontier and stood poised to link up with their main body. However, scouting reports revealed Khan Bahto had maneuvered his clan to threaten the reinforcements; trying to destroy them before they linked up with the main body and became too powerful. Thus, the Intrepid Paragon was divided as were the armies of Southold sent to help. They knew not of the location of the Cortalish troops, usually their enemies, who had also been dispatched to fight Vecna, and so it appeared they faced the full might of the Yazakh nation alone and divided. They were strangers in a strange land, at the end of a tenuous supply train that stretched hundreds of miles back to Bywater. And what would they do when they reached Tovag Baragu? Last time they had the Sword of Kas, and believed it would work; this time they had not even that; merely the mysterious plans of the god Donablas who claimed a mirror stolen from the future would be required and they would get their instructions when the time was right. A mixture of pitched battle, diplomacy, intelligence gathering, covert missions, and plenty of luck would be needed to face Vecna.
The army continued its inexorable march north, assessing reports from a number of agents they had cultivated in the enemy camp. Based on this information, the Intrepid Paragon went ahead on a pair of covert missions. The first band went on to capture a Yazakh battle standard, another to assassinate one of the clan leaders to demoralize their forces. The ploys worked well, and Clan Blitnik was left leaderless and confused, allowing the Third to sneak a forced march beyond their lands as they mourned. There was little motivation to chase the foreigners either, given the fate of all who had stood against them.
However, Clan Ritkin did put up a fight, defending the last river crossing over the Kush before Tovag Baragu. The battle was a hard-fought one, but the Third ultimately triumphed. Sorcery allowed units to cross on the right flank as the infantry marched straight up the bridge. Another series of covert operations, including a raid on a Fire Wizard Tower whose occupant was loyal to Vecna, aided the fight. There were also intelligence reports that the Cortalish army of the lich Pomeranian had drawn off two of the Yazakh clan armies to the west, leaving the Circle itself guarded by three clan armies.
The grey dawn on Midsummer day was a bleak one, for this day would herald Vecna’s apotheosis to greater godhood. Despite containing the flower of Southron chivalry, the Third had little chance of defeating all three Yazakh armies, but would only try to buy time for the Intrepid Paragon to penetrate the stone circle of Tovag Baragu and prevent Vecna from completing his apotheosis ritual. The soldiers made their prayers to Nuada and set off on the morning of Midsummer with the circle and enemy host in sight.
The initial battle went badly, with the flagellants nearly massacred to a man by the deadly Yazakh bow fire. However, their sacrifice bought time for the rest of the army to advance, and soon the first Yazakh army was defeated. Now the Intrepid Paragon broke off and headed into the great stone circle of Tovag Baragu, seeing Vecna alone within, engrossed in some magic ceremony.
Their advance was cut short by a horde of opponents, including a fire wizard and a great juggernaught chariot which crushed enemies under its great wheels. The Paragon defeated the hordes one by one, killing a host of golems as they neared the inner ring of stone sarsens. Meanwhile, the Third was fighting with its back to the circle, hard pressed by the other two Yazakh armies, and unlikely to hold out for much longer.
As midnight fell on Tovag Baragu, Vecna cried out, “come forth my faithful” and hordes of Vecna worshippers came through the stone circle arches, which had become gateways to the past. They entered from the past--Gos before Vecna was “slain” by his lieutenant over a century ago, and immediately fell prostrate, worshipping their dark lord. He grew visibly more powerful as a result, and the Intrepid Paragon countered by casting walls of force to block the hordes from entering.
They then used the magic mirror as instructed by Donablas, but lo, it was not he who emerged from the mirror, but Janus.
Janus was the ancient being who the Miscreants adventuring company--many of whom were now in the Intrepid Paragon--had faced years ago. They had failed to prevent him from achieving demigod status, and now he strode forth, again having used them to accomplish his goals. As he locked in battle with Vecna, he cajoled the adventurers, saying how he had used them for years, following them, advancing their development so they would be useful on this foretold day, so that he, instead of Vecna, would gain greater godhood. He had helped with the very development of the Bywater Six, even appearing to them once as a mysterious “benefactor” when they were lost in Undermountain, knowing the contribution they must play in the future to this final act. He had infiltrated the Videssian cabals, becoming the Nameless One of the ninth cabal, and enlisted Agrippa as an agent for years against his own friends. He had sent his Sylvanian wizard, Vladimir Antonovich Smitchkoff, to aid the adventurers at various points, to get them to this point. He had followed the adventurers each step of the way--his were the agents spotted following Greywolf in Tara months ago--knowing they would unravel the mechanics of Vecna’s plot, of which he had only some knowledge.
Stonne furiously tried to manipulate the artifact of Tovag Baragu, changing the locations for the temporal gates to the Void as the demigods tumbled in battle. Greywolf sacrificed his life to protect Stonne, as the two demigods turned on him once they realized what was happening. But it was too late, Kliff threw his Thonian body--the wall that walks like a man--into the wrestling demigods, plunging them both into the portal. As the pair fell into the void, a great explosion emerged, nearly slaying Kliff.
Then, a great silence came over the battlefield, as the clouds cleared and a great light descended from the heavens. The three greatest gods, Tyr, Donablas, and Bane descended to Grund. They debated the situation as the mortals of all sides were frozen in awe. Bane nearly convinced them to abandon Grund--destroy it and start the experiment of life anew with more pliable servants. He claimed the experiment had been tainted, the creatures were drifting away from the gods and had illusions of running their own destinies. However, when the Intrepid Paragon interjected, Tyr decided they would be heard.
Three mortals were chosen to speak, one favored of the philosophy of each god--Greywolf for Good, Wildcard for Neutrality, and Colstan Rhuul for Evil--eloquently defending their right to live, saying the gods’ experiment had not gone awry, but that they had saved themselves without the gods’ help. Tyr agreed, then Donablas, and finally even Bane, though all pledged to continue their eternal struggle, until the end of days--the Neldoreth--shall come to Grund. They rewarded their servants, resurrecting the fallen without any lasting injury, and granting wondrous requests to them. Colstan Rhuul had the most interesting request, to resurrect the long-fallen werewolf lord Garth, and to have an undead army placed at his command; it was granted.
Before departing, the three gods decided that the Yazakh people would be punished for their transgressions, for following the pretender Vecna. They caused it to rain, that the plains should become a great lake and the Yazakhs a people without a land, refugees to wander the face of Arik. The Intrepid Paragon gathered their men, the scant few survivors of the Third Bywater Expeditionary Army, and began marching south, even as what would become Lake Retribution began to form.
Vecna’s Disjunction was finally at an end. Bards tell this story in a dozen languages across the face of Arik. However, some tell of a different ending, that the Hand and Eye of the Archlich were thrown clear in the explosions which rocked Tovag Baragu, and that one day they will be rediscovered and herald the Whispered One’s return.