After looting the equipment of the dragon’s bodyguards, Kael and Peter made an attempt to collect the dragon’s scales and other valuable body parts, while Darius cut a piece of its hide for use in his Create Treasure Map spell. Afterwards, the group Teleported back to Nighthold to sell their equipment. Finding a dwarf blacksmith named Clyrrik the Halt, the group quickly unloaded their goods and sold the dragon scales to the dwarf, who planned to craft a suit of platemail out of them.
Returning to Villia, the group headed back to Ivan’s druid grove, but was shocked to find all of the druids slain, including Ivan – tracks and evidence showed that the druids had all been killed and partially eaten by some kind of beast, whose tracks mysteriously disappeared shortly after slaying the last of the druids. The group then headed for one of the marks on Darius’s treasure map, arriving at a large pyramid-like structure heavily populated by more snake-men. The group deliberated for a time on the best way to gain entrance, but eventually decided on attempting to bluff their way in – Darius shapeshifted into a red dragon, and the group introduced themselves as mercenaries who wished to join up with the snake-men for mutural benefit. Although the sentries and commander were initially skeptical, the group managed to convince them of their sincerity, and they were given heavily secured quarters underground beneath the pyramid. Using more of his strange powers, Jeryk managed to escape and explore the pyramid undetected, determining that a large magical gate was installed beneath the pyramid, along with a great deal of weaponry and siege equipment. The group deduced that the Vanguard was attempting to set up a system of troop movement via magical gates that would allow them a huge logistical advantage over enemy armies, allowing them to deploy their strength against the enemy’s weaknesses strategically and take over much of Villia, if not all of Sor’drim. Breaking out of their chambers, the group quickly crushed their opposition and destroyed the gate, but alerted the snake-men on the other side of the portal in doing so. Although their assault was initially a surprise upon the inhabitants of the pyramid, the commander eventually managed to rally his troops, bringing dozens of Vanguard troopers to bear against the party. However, they were no match for the group, and even their release of a fiery demon availed them little. The group was cutting their way through the seemingly endless tide of opponents when, suddenly, a woman’s voice called out for aid down a tunnel, promising 10,000 gold pieces to anyone who would assist her escape. Darius, remembering that a guard had earlier shouted orders to keep the escapees away from “the prisoner”, quickly began making his way in the direction of the cry.
As Darius and Kael began heading towards “the prisoner’s” possible location, a field of Black Tentacles suddenly sprang up, entangling Droverson and cutting Darius and Kael off from the rest of the party. A Fireball, followed by a huge Web, also sprang up around Jeryk and Peter, but they were able to shrug off most of its effects. Peter took refuge inside of an alchemical smoke cloud while Jeryk managed to reveal an invisible assailant using Faerie Fire, and engaged their mysterious antagonist in melee combat. To the vigilante’s surprise, his opponent was highly skilled in both swordplay and magic, and the two fought for several rounds. Just as Droverson freed himself from the tentacles and began to teleport himself to Jeryk’s aid, the party’s assailant suddenly became visible – at first glance, the attacker appeared to be Darius, but the group quickly discerned that he had merely altered his shape to confuse them. Badly pressed, the fake Darius suddenly threw down a black gem, which shattered and released a cloud of choking black smoke – when the smoke cleared, a huge creature had appeared. Vaguely resembling a nightmarish snake demon, the creature’s shadow suddenly began to devour everyone nearby. In a rapid flurry of savage claws, the creature forced Jeryk to flee and struck down Droverson before turning its wrath upon the fake Darius, opening him to a vicious backstab from Jeryk. When the dust had settled, the creature was gone, but Jeryk thought he detected sounds from a nearby room that indicated the creature might be burrowing into the stone.
Regrouping, the party began to administer healing items, bringing Droverson back from the brink of death. Their resources ebbing low, the party began to search more earnestly for the the remnants of the Vanguard forces as the sun began to set on the stronghold…