The Shaded Vale
1200 years ago a young Wizard found himself tempted by dark energies. His lust for power overwhelmed his mortal body. He had consumed too much of his own physical self to feed the arcane forces he loved. Facing death, he embraced it and became a Lich. In doing so the Wizard forgot his mortal past and took the name Pontifex.
Over the next 200 years Pontifex quietly built himself an army of undead creatures with which he planned to conquer the western lands. His legions gathered in the Shadowfell, patiently waiting for the day when their master might release them to wreak havoc on the world. Still, Pontifex could not keep such an army secret forever. The barriers which separate the Shadowfell from the mortal plane are strong, but not impervious to all.
Word of this growing force eventually reached the ears of Afa Atutahi Bosatsu, a powerful Monk who had devoted his life to spreading the Word of Pelor. He vowed to destroy the undead army and kill Pontifex forever, ridding the lands of the Lich and guaranteeing that Pelor’s Holy light would shine for all eternity over the Nentir Vale.
Afa came upon Pontifex in his castle, built atop a gateway to the Shadowfell. The Lich managed to make his way to the foul hall beneath the castle and unleashed his army. For three days and three nights Afa Atutahi Bosatsu single-handedly held the rotting hordes at bay, stopping them from escaping the castle, crushing them like insects. On the dawn of the fourth day the last of Pontifex’s minions collapsed. Afa, bloodied and weary, summoned his final ounces of strength and will to challenge Pontifex himself. But rather than fight, the Lich offered a bargain.
“Have mercy upon me, brave Monk,” begged Pontifex. “You have proven yourself to be a being of near-limitless power. In a fair fight I would surely be destroyed. But in your current condition, I’m not sure that you could best me. So instead I offer you another choice: Set me free. I will be banished to the Underdark and vow never to meddle in the affairs of the world again. In return for your mercy, as my final act here I will perform a ritual to make you immortal.”
“Lies!” Afa spat at the Lich. “You seek to trick me!”
“My offer is an honorable one. May all that is dark and foul in this plane and the next consume me if I break this vow. I will make you immortal so that you might continue to speak the word of your Pelor forever.”
Afa had not expected this offer. Surely the ability to continue spreading Pelor’s shining light for all eternity would be a grand gesture, and worth sparing the unnatural life of a mere Lich. But in his heart he knew he should not be dealing with the undead. Still, he accepted.
For the next 24 hours Pontifex performed the ritual, first binding Afa’s soul to the mortal world, then imbuing his body with everlasting animation. It was the most painful experience of Afa’s life, but he knew he must endure. Finally, as dawn was breaking on the next day, Afa stumbled out of Pontifex’s chambers and into Pelor’s light. He lifted his arms to greet the rising sun of his patron.
But Pelor was not pleased to see his mightiest warrior in league with a Lich. For his betrayal, Pelor blasted Afa with rays of burning radiant light, consuming his body in the firey wrath of his beloved God.
Pontifex, true to his word, descended to the Underdark to spend his eternity in isolation, never again to see the world above. Another 900 years passed. Pontifex spent his time studying languages, civilizations and the many planes of existance. Then one day a young Drow named Salizar Marquis stumbled into Pontifex’s hidden lair in the Underdark by mistake. Pontifex, hungry for news of the world above, took the Drow on as his assistant and emissary. Marquis soon began to build relations with the savage tribes and intelligent beasts of the Vale, telling them that he was a speaker for Grandfather. Pontifex hoped that by avoiding contact with the greater peoples, he might also avoid the attention of Afa, who he suspected was still alive.
Then, after 70 years of growing influence on the Vale, Marquis brought the Lich news of a pair of sorceress sisters, worshippers of Zehir, who had taken up residence in Shadewynne. They were using the waters of the Life Spring at the top of the mountain to feed their rituals. With these rituals they were attempting to open a portal to the Elemental Chaos and summon a Nalfeshnee. With such a demon under their control they could easily lay waste to the Vale and quickly spread west beyond the Stonemarch. Pontifex could not let this happen.
At Grandfather’s command, a tribe of Frost Giants laid seige to the village, trying to kill the sisters, Sithuna and Eurla. But the Giants were beaten back by Sithuna’s spells, and Eurla erected a magical bubble to surround the town, preventing any more of Grandfather’s minions from entering.
For the next 30 years Pontifex watched Shadewynne carefully. Until news came of a hapless party of adventurers who had slain Szartharrax and stolen his eyes. Pontifex knew instantly of the danger the Dragon Lenses might represent, and sent Salizar Marquis once more to take action.
Note: Pontifex is based on a character from the New World Campaign from Role Playing Public Radio.