Zephus the paladin found himself once more at the Ruins of Raven’s Watch, and underground facility used by the evil cleric, Vislak. He and the other members of the Dragonbusters had cleared it out many months previous, but the strange lantern-bearer had led him here once again. With Shaggy the hound archon by his side, he descended into the dungeon.
Zephus instantly saw signs that the place was inhabited again, and he soon found some of those new inhabitants in the form of J.R. Remington III and a couple of orc cronies! Apparently the lawyer was also a sword for hire, but not without his own form of honor. He offered to let Zephus go if he could hit the swordsman once in a duel. The orcs grumbled a bit at this, but didn’t object. Zephus, seeing little choice, agreed. After being parried frustratingly several times, he finally managed to land a hit on Remington. True to his word, the barrister awarded Zephus his freedom. The orcs, however, weren’t too happy about that and turned on Zephus and Remington both! The unlikely pair quickly overpowered the green-skinned thugs, and Zephus continued about his business.
Needing a weapon of his own, Zephus recalled that he had left his own sword at a statue of Torm in these very ruins! He grudgingly thanked Remington for his assistance and headed straight for where he thought the statue was. Unfortunately, he did not have his companion Kiba’s sense of direction, and found himself in an office instead. Well for him that he did, for he found evidence that his old foe, Dovran Certoz, was in residence at the Watch. Researching further, Zephus found chilling evidence that Certoz was a follower of the evil drow witch, Cordalaya, until recently. He had taken over the Watch from her late operative Vislak, and discovered the secret of Black Fang’s unusual size and strength: an experimental mutagen that vastly increased growth rate and had the side benefit of making the creature extremely tractable! He pocketed the journal and the mutagen recipe and took off to find the statue once more.
His memory having returned of the correct place, Zephus found the statue without further mishap. To his surprise, the lantern-bearer awaited him. Now able to get a closer look, he realized the lantern-bearer was none other than the spirit of his young student, Nellie Keane! Unable to speak freely, she hinted that Certoz was controlling her and that destroying her heart would be the only way to free her. Zephus vowed to see this done, and took up the sword from Torm’s statue. There was only one place that Certoz could be lurking: the main chapel where the Dragonbusters had destroyed the cleric Vislak!
Zephus, not wishing to be foolhardy, decided to take the back route into the chapel. Unfortunately, a fire-breathing dragon lay in wait for him there! It appeared to be a gold dragon, and Zephus felt a sense of familiarity from the dragon. Could this be the offspring of Ansapharilonyxia? But when had it hatched, and how had it gotten so big? More importantly, how could he free it from the grasp of Certoz? Zephus valiantly held off the dragon and the hordes of vampire spawns, wolves, and Certoz himself while Shaggy searched the tomes for an answer. When things looked especially grim, the archon tried to step in and assist the paladin, but took a solid blow to the head and fell unconscious.
In the end, Zephus had to drive the dragon away with the avenging power of Torm, and focus on the true threat: Certoz! He hade to charge the red-headed fiend, but found himself face to steel with the flat of his sword! Somehow Certoz had confused his actions! Spending valuable time not in complete control of his faculties, Zephus began to worry that this might be the end! Adding insult to insult, Certoz summoned the ghost of Nellie Keane to attack Zephus! This most evil development triggered something in the Paladin, a store of divine power, with which he threw off his foe’s enchantment and charged!
But Certoz had not attained his power by leaving himself unprotected. He revealed a ring on his finger that bore a shrunken, misshapen eye. The eye of a Beholder! Speaking a command word, the eye snapped open and Zephus felt the divine power fade from him. So this is how Certoz defeated the Zone of Truth in his trial! Rather than flail about wildly in impotence, Zephus tried another tack. Around him were set 6 pedestals, each with a still-beating heart resting upon it. Two had burst into flames during some sort of vile ritual that Certoz was performing; already he looked stronger. One of the remaining four must be Nellie’s!
Zephus quickly drove his sword into the nearest heart, but with no luck. The ghost still approached, and Certoz lashed out in anger of the disruption of his ritual. He attempted to once again dominate the paladin’s actions, but Zephus’ holy fury allowed him to shrug it off. As he brought his sword down onto another heart, several things happened. A flash of light nearly blinded him as Nellie’s Geas was broken; a rush of cold air as her spirit was drawn back into her heart; and his sword, ringing softly as it absorbed the power of Nellie’s righteous being.
Then reality snapped back. Zephus stood before his enemy, face serene, holding aloft the Holy Avenger ready to strike. Certoz appeared uncertain, not even managing to snarl at his foe. Then, quick as lightning, Zephus struck! The holy power of the legendary blade bit into the evil creature, and he hissed in pain. Certoz backed away, his body fading into mist. “You’ve won, boy.” he said as transformation completed. The gaseous form of Certoz floated away through the crack in the entrance doors.
Zephus let out a deep breath and hurried over to his friend Shaggy. His work was not yet done. He revived the archon, and together the pair followed the obvious trail left by the dragon. Soon they had it cornered in a deep cavern. Shaggy had found that infusion of holy power could disrupt the mutagen’s hold, and Zephus bravely approached the dragon to Lay his Hands upon it. The treatment worked, and the dragon accepted Zephus as a rider in token of gratitude. He soared up out of a large chimney of rock, with Zephus on his back, and up into the morning sky.
Zephus, through the rush of the excitement of flying, noticed several figures on the ground below. Taking the dragon down closer, he saw it was the rest of the Dragonbusters! He caught just a bit of their conversation as he hovered overhead:
“I think we should sneak in!”
“Let’s just bust down the door!”
“What do you think, O cleric?”
“I <hic> can’t decide!”
Zephus settled the dispute by crash landing in their midst. After getting to his feet and brushing himself off, he turned to his friends,
“Have I got a story to tell you!”