Chapter #827

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of Wizards of the Coast  +
+   which has in no way endorsed or authorized their use.  Any such       +
+   property contained within these stories are not representative of     +
+   Wizards of the Coast in any fashion.                                  +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2004 by Thomas A. Miller.  Any resemblance to any persons        +
+   or characters either real or fictional is utterly coincidental.       +
+   Copying and/or distribution of these stories is permissible under     +
+   the sole condition that no money is made in the process.  In that     +
+   case, I hope you enjoy them!                                          +
+   Belphanior     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  10th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          5/22/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          unknown, presumably evening                            +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       cold                                                   +
+   "Talent does only what it can - genius does what it must."            +
+                                        - Arcane, from _Swamp Thing_     +

                     DCCCXXVII.  Icy Conditions

  The adventurers stand in a small, very cold domed chamber containing
the gateway they arrived through and a single exit:  a small iron door
set into one wall.

Belphanior:  ...or, we may be able to get out of the shielded area and
  teleport safely.  (he points to the small exit door)  We won't know
  until we go through that door.  So let's not waste any more time.  (he
  points to the portal)  Otto and Skektek, cover me.  Be ready with your
  missiles and spells.  Ys, if anything jumps through there and isn't
  stopped by the others, use your sword.  (he holds Blackrazor out,
  pointing the sword at the door)  I don't detect any souls beyond, but
  who knows where we are or what's around here?
Ys:  I am ready.  We all are.
Belphanior:  Good.  (he grabs the door's handle, eyeing the lock that he
  and Otto just bypassed) we go.  (bracing himself, he opens
  the portal)

  The door opened into a strange area.  It was about thirty feet across
and multi-sided, with perhaps fifteen or twenty sides of random lengths.
The floor was flat, dull gray stone, but the walls appeared to be formed
of some sort of crystal...and they rose upward for quite a way, perhaps
a hundred feet.  Despite the lack of any visible light source, the entire
chamber was bathed in a pale, clear light that seemed to be coming from
the walls themselves.

Belphanior:  Well, this is interesting.
Skektek:  It looks like we're inside a gigantic shard of crystal.
Belphanior:  Not quite.  (he reaches out and touches the wall to the
  right of the door they just came through)  It's not crystal at all...
  it's ice.
Ys:  A giant hollow icicle?  Who would construct such a thing?
Belphanior:  Our departed friend Xusia, that's who.
Otto:  And I think I know why.  Look here.

  The dwarf had wandered a short distance around the perimeter of the
tall, thin chamber, and was examining a section of wall.

Otto:  This ice wall is thin, and you can see right through...and look
  what's behind it.

  It was true; the ice was completely transparent, almost like glass,
and there was a small hollow behind it.  Mounted on a pedestal within
this niche was an ornate sword, its tip embedded in the pedestal's icy

Razor Charlie:  (nearby, he points to the wall in front of him)  Here's
  another one, an axe.
Elgon:  There's a mace over here.
Belphanior:  (looking around, he scans the wall and its niches)
Otto:  This is someone's weapon collection.  (he grins)  Holy crap, it's
  an armory.  We're standing in an armory!

  It was true, and they were sure of it - there was simply no other
explanation.  A total of six niches held weapons here:  a longsword, a
great battleaxe, a horrific spiked mace, a whip, a spear, and a pike.
There were three of the weapon-niches on each side of the small door
they'd come through.  Directly across the chamber from them was a much
larger door.  Eight feet high and six feet wide, it was made of dark
wood reinforced with thick bands of iron.  A massive bar rested in two
grooves mounted on either side of the door, barring it securely.

Belphanior:  (examining the large door with his magical crystal eye)
  This door's not magic, but it's damn thick - maybe four inches.  I
  think it's also frozen shut on the other side.
Otto:  What about these weapons?
Belphanior:  Nobody touch anything yet.  We'll take the usual precautions
  until we think it's safe.  I want to check each of these six alcoves,
  plus this big door, for magic and traps.  Otto, you look for physical
  traps.  Elgon, check for illusions.  Jenna, check for evil; hell, check
  for good as well.  You just never know.  I'll scan all of them for magic
  auras, and anything else I can detect.  I also want to fly up there- (he
  points to the tapering ceiling hundreds of feet above) -and see whether
  there's anything at the top.  In fact, I'll do that first.  (he slowly
  rises into the air)
Ys:  (removes a large iron spike from a pouch and uses it to prop open
  the small door they came in through)
Otto:  (nods to the reptilian)

  It took a bit longer than the last time, given the increased number of
things that needed to be checked, but eventually, all was deemed clear.
The chamber's ceiling was about a hundred feet up, where it tapered to a
point.  There was nothing up there, and no real explanation of why the
entire ice-chamber was lit by the pale light.  The exit door was found
to be a normal door, though it was quite heavy and sturdy.  As for the
weapons, they all radiated strong auras of magic; the mace and the whip
also had powerful traces of evil.

Belphanior:  We'll deal with these later - I don't want to remove them
  until we've secured the area...the entire area.  (he eyes the large
  door)  Which means seeing what's on the other side of that.  Same as
  before, everyone get ready and cover me.  If we happen to find some
  beast on the other side, I'm leaping away and counting on some of the
  rest of you to take it out.  (he faces the thick door, and sighs)
Otto:  Don't forget to use a cloth or something, so your hands don't
  stick to the door.  I can feel the cold coming off of it all the way
  over here.
Belphanior:  Good point.  (he rummages around in a pocket, retrieving a
  pair of thick leather gloves and putting them on)

  With that, the elf lifted the thick iron rod that barred the door from
this side, set it down, and grabbed the door's handle, turning it.

Belphanior:  Hey.  (he pulls)  It won't open....frozen shut, I bet.
Ys:  Let me help.

  The big reptilian took hold of the handle, pulling with all his might.

Ys:  Unnngh!  (he frowns)  Mmm.  Stuck fast.
Skektek:  I have an idea.  (he steps forth, cracking his knuckles)  Let
  me apply a minor fire spell - a really minor one, for me - to the door.
  It might help if we heat it and thaw the other side a bit.
Belphanior:  Good plan.
Skektek:  (goes to work, generating a small, weak-looking flame around
  his hands and then moving it around the doorjamb)  Ys, keep pulling on
  that door.  If you feel it about to give, let me know so I don't get
  smacked when it flies open suddenly.
Ys:  Agreed.

  It happened much as the wizard predicted; one moment he was thawing the
doorjamb, the next, it was making a cracking sound as Ys applied his
considerable strength to the problem.

Ys:  Aside, good Skektek.  (he pulls again, and the door opens with a
  sound of cracking ice)
Belphanior:  Whoa!  (he steps back, despite himself, as a wall of snow
  falls inward, revealing the bright outdoors)

  The elf and Ys, and then those behind them, were assailed by a blast of
icy cold - a strong wind that flung the door wide open, bringing in large
flakes of snow and dropping the temperature significantly.

Belphanior:  Whoa!  (he steps back)
Otto:  Everyone, bundle up as best as you can, especially your head.  If
  you can't or don't want to, stay here while we go out and have a look.

  They emerged from the door into a world of white.  As far as the eye
could see, in every direction, was an endless expanse of snow and ice.
The sky was clear and bright, but the wind was strong, biting down to
the bone.  Their breath misted as it left their bodies.

Otto:  (notices that there's frost in his beard already)  Damn cold.

  Weak flurries of snow drifted as the wind drove them along, but there
was no major snowfall at the moment.

Belphanior:  I'd venture to say this is the best the weather gets here.
  (he steps out a bit more)

  The exit door was set in the side of a large hillock - albeit one that
was completely covered with snow - and the adventurers noticed that there
were dozens of such mounds, all across the landscape.

Belphanior:  Hmm.
Otto:  What do you think?
Belphanior:  I think we're as far north as anyone's ever been...maybe
  north of the Land of Black Ice, or the Barbarian lands.
Otto:  Drusilla did say that one gateway was "beyond the Land of Black
  Ice" - could this be it?
Belphanior:  Quite possibly.  I don't have any way to map out for sure
  where we are.  I think our old friend Kiel Morgan has a magical sextant
  that can plot such things, but we don't really have a way to be sure.
Ys:  (shivering)  We cannot remain here for long - we would freeze.  I
  assume an overland exploration is out of the question?
Belphanior:  Right you are.  We don't have the equipment for it, and as
  we don't even know where we are, we're really not prepared.  (he sighs)
  I don't mind having to make another blind jump with the gateway, but it
  bothers me that Xusia would build a base up here.
Otto:  Wherever "here" is.  But why not just teleport away, from out here?
  Surely you could cast that spell before we froze up.
Belphanior:  Two reasons.  One, that would leave the outer door unlocked.
  Two, the gateway will take us elsewhere for free, so I'd rather save my
  spell for a real emergency.
Otto:  Good point.  Since we're going to use all the gateways eventually,
  the argument that they could be perilous isn't really valid.
Skektek:  (walks over)  Damn, it's cold here!  (he points to the door,
  which is slightly ajar and propped open like the other one)  I figured
  I should come tell you that the door's in the process of freezing in
  that position, and the inside room's also icing over.
Otto:  We need to hurry.
Belphanior:  (shaking his head angrily)  There's got to be some reason for
  the lich to choose this spot.  (he looks around)  Maybe we can sort it
  all out once we know where we are, exactly.  (he spits, watching the
  glob freeze as it hits the white, frozen ground)  Okay, back inside.
  We'll close it back up, take the weapons, and use the gateway again.

  Moments later, they were back inside, and the heavy door was closed
behind them.  It was amazing how much warmer the interior was, despite
how frigid it had first seemed - the outside was that cold.  Turning
their attention to the six magical weapons, they examined the clear ice
"walls" that stood between them and the weapons.

Belphanior:  (touches the ice)  Well, we can melt it...or we can break
  through it.  (he backs up)  Hey!

  The ice-wall vanished, and a cold mist was released into the room as
the weapons - all six of them - became accessible.

Belphanior:  (scanning all around for a trap or magic)  There's nothing
  suspicious here...I just don't trust an easy find like this.
Jenna:  (shakes her head)  I sense no evil, beyond a couple of these
  items in and of themselves.
Otto:  Remember, the lich didn't intend for anyone but himself or his
  minions to ever be here or get these.  We may not find that many traps
  or other kinds of protections.
Belphanior:  (takes the longsword, removing it from its case)  Okay...
  let's get all of these and get the hell out of here.  Wrap them well,
  especially the mace and whip.
Jenna:  You're taking the evil weapons too?
Belphanior:  (eyes her sternly)  All weapons, whatever their nature, are
  still weapons.  I may not use them, but I can still trade them for some
  other thing I _can_ use.

  With great caution and care, they removed the other weapons, all of
which were stashed in Belphanior's portable hole.  Soon, they faced the
gateway again, and had to choose their next destination form the choices
represented by Sueloise runes on the metal dial.

Skektek:  Hmm...some of these aren't exactly clear to me.  Then again,
  I'm no linguist.
Belphanior:  Just do the best you can.
Skektek:  Some of them might be..."tree", "earth"...hmm, and "insane" or
  "lunatic"...yeah, "lunatic", I'm pretty sure.  That's a weird one.  Um,
  then there's "sea" here.  Pretty easy, that one.  That's four...the
  last two are "cut" or "wound", not sure which...and "sun."  I think.
  (he looks at the others)  Don't get me wrong, I took good notes, but
  we really need that Neera girl here to help decipher this crap.
Elgon:  What about a spell to translate the language?
Skektek:  (sighs, irritated at such questions)  Because it's not really
  a language.  These markings are runic Sueloise...symbols, not letters
  or words.  It's apples and oranges, no, apples and nuts.  You can use
  a knife to peel an apple, but not a nut.
Elgon:  Interesting.
Skektek:  Yep.
Belphanior:  Don't worry about it, you did fine.  (to the others)  I'm
  not inclined to deal with anything tied to the terms "insane" or "cut"
  right about "tree" or "earth" next?
Otto:  Sounds good to me.
Elgon:  I can deal with earth!
Ys:  Aye, and I with sea.
wispy thing:  speee!
Belphanior:  (seeing nods from everyone else)  Okay then.  (he turns the
  metal dial, he prepares to activate the magical gateway)  Earth it is.
Jenna:  Just one question...are we going to keep exploring these places,
  one after the other, without any rest?
Belphanior:  (watches as the mists appear)  Yeah, we are, more or less...
  until we've found them all.  The way I see it, we're in a race against
  time, with a lot more to be found.  (he steps into the mists, followed
  in single file by the others)

  This time, they emerged into a natural cavern of irregular shape, its
dimensions anywhere from twenty to thirty feet across.  The gateway arch
was mounted directly into one wall, fashioned of light brown stone just
like the rough stone all around, except smoothly-cut and polished.  The
floor was rough but basically flat, and the ceiling was about nine feet
high and craggy.  There were no exits to be seen.

Elgon:  Hmm, that's odd.

next:      the domain of earth
released:  7/2/04
notes:     I suppose they'll have to take SOME breaks here and there, for
  sleep and also to restock supplies, but basically this is just one big
  running story arc.  Let me know if you're liking it - the destinations,
  the way they're moving between them, and the underlying plotline that
  holds it all together.

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