Chapter #884

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

+     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       +
+   1991-2005 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/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/5/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         a small chamber in an unknown location                 +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "The secret of success is constancy of purpose."                      +
+                                                 - Benjamin Disraeli     +

                   DCCCLXXXIV.  Ascent of Kings

  The party has ventured to a small chamber with some maps and a spiral
stairway leading upward...

Skektek:  (points to the spiral stairway)  And it makes me wonder where
  that leads.
Jenna:  (touches her forehead)  My mystical senses tell me that it...
Skektek:  (glares at her)
Jenna:  That was a joke.
Skektek:  (glares at her)
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces to nobody in particular)
Ys:  (mumbling)  I found it amusing.
Elgon:  (gesturing to the walls around)  I can tell you this, as a deep
  gnome:  we're quite a ways underground.
Belphanior:  Like several floors?
Elgon:  Like several _dozen_ floors.
Skektek:  Whoa, that's deep.
Jenna:  (glares at Skektek)
Belphanior:  Enough of this nonsense.  (he walks over to the adjacent
  chamber containing the stairway)  We're going up.  I'll take the point,
  since I'm most likely to detect anything nasty waiting for us up there.
  Otto, Elgon - you're behind me.  Charlie, you bring up the rear.
Razor Charlie:  What about the door?
Ys:  He's right - what if this big stone door closes after we go up?
  It was clearly designed to repel anyone coming from above, trying to
  get into the gateway chamber.
Belphanior:  Good point.  Okay, we'll prop it open with iron spikes.
Jenna:  So _that's_ what people use those for.
Otto:  We should stick that table in the opening, too...just in case.
Ys:  We should place a small boulder there, but unfortunately we lack
  one, so the table will have to do.  (he hefts it with one arm, sending
  scroll tubes to the floor)
Skektek:  Should we take these now, or get them later?
Belphanior:  We'll take them now.  After all, what if don't come back
  this way?
Otto:  Or what if someone else does, and takes them?

  In short order, the maps were taken, the stone door was propped open,
and the adventurers were climbing the steps.  The air was cool and dry
in the spiral stairway, whose shaft was a perfect, precise cylinder.

Otto:  This was definitely man-made.
Elgon:  Or dwarf-made.
Belphanior:  Not if Xusia was involved in the construction.  Let's get
  up those stairs and find out what's going on.
wispy thing:  (flying slightly ahead of the elf)  spaaa!

  After a short while, legs began to ache, and senses began to dull - the
stairway was that high.  Onward they went, encountering nothing except
the echoes of their boots on the steps.  Belphanior actually tried to
keep count of the steps, but soon lost track.  After a good, long while
(perhaps half an hour) the explorers noticed a change in the walls and

Belphanior:  Mold.
Otto:  Is it the animated, dangerous kind?
Elgon:  (shakes his head)  No, this is just your typical underground
  fungus, the kind that grows in dark, wet places.  (he points to the
  wall of the shaft as they climb the steps)  See the water?  Wherever
  this stairway goes, it's probably wet up there.
Belphanior:  Hopefully it's not the bottom of an ocean, or something
  like that.  Jenna, any sense of what's above us?
Jenna:  I don't feel any direct, strong danger - like an ocean would be.
  However, to really consult Istus and ask for answers, I would need to
  stop and carry out some spellcasting.
Belphanior:  No...not right now.  Maybe if we don't find anything in a
  while, and we stop to rest...until then, your divinations can wait.
  (he climbs upward wearily)
wispy thing:  (hovering hear the elf's head)  brrrd.

  The moisture became more pronounced, the steps slick with it; they had
to tread carefully to avoid slipping and falling...and it was a long way
down.  After what seemed like an eternity, the long climb was over; the
stairway ended, opening onto a short landing.  A door of thick steel was
set into the wall at the end of the landing, a thick bar in place within
grooves bolted to this side of the door.  The entire bar/slot mechanism
appeared to be fused together by rust, which made sense considering the
slimy water that coated the entire area.

Otto:  Looks like this thing opens outward, once that bar's removed.
Skektek:  I wonder if there's a wall of water behind it?
Belphanior:  Unlikely - this door's not the sort to be that waterproof.
  You can tell that just by looking at its construction.  (he scans the
  portal with his crystal eye)  No magic, no traps...nothing.
wispy thing:  (hovering near the door and its bar)  aaarp?
Skektek:  Why would Xusia use only normal doors to protect his gateway-
  lairs?  That seems inefficient, considering the kind of magic he could
Elgon:  Oftentimes, people don't use magic to seal or hide places simply
  because those who can detect magic would have an _easier_ time finding
  what was intended to be hidden.
Otto:  They call that the "hide in plain sight" approach.
Belphanior:  We'll see, once we get this door open.  Ys, would you do the
Ys:  Certainly, though it is no honor to move an iron bar.  (he strains
  with the thing)  Ungh...even an iron bar that's rusted to its slot in
  the door.

  With a great rending sound, the metal tore loose from the door; the big
reptilian had torn away the brackets as well as the bar.

Ys:  And now...(he grabs the door's latch in one huge hand, then pushes
  the door gently)

  The portal opened with a long, drawn-out "SCHLOP" sound, as if a foot
had slowly been pulled from thick mud.  Several small trickles of dirty
water ran out onto the landing, and a strong stench wafted over them,
causing everyone to gag.

Belphanior:  Ghak.
Otto:  By the gods!  (he immediately covers his mouth and nose with a
Skektek:  (turns away, coughing)
Ys:  (makes an odd face)  Phew.
Jenna:  (looking nauseous)  Ugh...I think I' be...sick...
Razor Charlie:  (wondering why she can't just cast a spell to make herself
  not get sick)
wispy thing:  prrrd.  (it flies around, looking somewhat confused)
Belphanior:  (pokes his head through the door, getting a good look, then
  backs up, pulling the portal closed with a slight squishing sound)

  In short order, the smell faded, though none of them were likely to
forget it anytime soon.

Belphanior:  (smirks, pleased with himself)  I just realized where we
Skektek:  You did?
Belphanior:  (to Otto)  That stonework looked familiar...distinctive.
  Even for a sewer.
Otto:  Sewer...(his eyes widen)  Surely not?
Belphanior:  (nods)  There's no way I'd forget the sewers of Greyhawk,
  not after spending so many hours roaming through them.
Ys:  Sewers?
Elgon:  Greyhawk?
Jenna:  Sewers?  Ugh.  (she uses a minor wind-spell to blow cool air on
  the party, taking the stench elsewhere)
Belphanior:  The design, the size and shape of the passages - they were
  identical to what I just saw on the other side of that door.  And it
  fits in with the rune..."king."
Otto:  And the maps or Greyhawk that we found.
Belphanior:  Xusia built a hideaway far beneath the greatest city in the
Elgon:  That can't be good.
Belphanior:  Well, it wouldn't have been good if the lich had lived to
  implement whatever plan he had for the Free City.  As it stands now,
  though, we've got a backdoor into Greyhawk, if we ever need one.
Otto:  Or a way out, depending how you look at it.
Belphanior:  Mm, true.
Skektek:  Are we going to explore the sewer, see what part of it this
  door opens into?
Belphanior:  I don't think we should, and there are plenty of reasons.
  One, I don't feel like walking through shit and breathing its fumes.
Jenna:  Agreed.
Belphanior:  Two, it's dangerous.  In addition to strange dopplegangers
  and other things, there are huge alligators down there.
Ys:  Alligators?
Otto:  (nods)  Gigantic ones, fifty feet long.
Razor Charlie:  I heard those stories.  Thought they were urban legends.
Belphanior:  (smirks)  Trust me, they're real.
Ys:  I have never met an alligator I couldn't beat-
Belphanior:  And you never will, at least not today.  A third reason not
  to enter the sewers:  there's no need.  I mean, why trudge through the
  crap of a city, risk our lives against weird beasts...only to see which
  particular sewer-grate we can step out of, onto the city streets?
Otto:  You're right, it's pointless.
Skektek:  Seems that way to me, too.
Belphanior:  This is something we can return and check out when we've got
  more time, but for now, I think we've explored this particular gateway
  chamber as far as we need to.  Let's re-seal this door and get the hell
  out of here.

  It was a long walk back down the spiral steps to the gateway chamber,
but at least it was downhill...and it beat walking through the sewers.
When they finally returned to the thick stone door, they were pleased to
find it still ajar.  They re-entered the actual gateway room, closed the
door, and checked the area again, just in case they had missed anything.
  They hadn't, and it was time to leave.

Skektek:  Which destination now?  Have you thought about the other runes
  since Neera and Nenya completed their translations?
Belphanior:  I have.  The next one we'll try is "sleep."  (he looks at
  each of them in turn)  We got lucky this time, and didn't have to fight
  anyone...but sooner or later, we'll end up in a hostile place.  There's
  no telling who or what Xusia put in some of these places, so everyone
  keep your heads up and your weapons ready.  (he activates the teleport-
  gateway, the stonework changing into magical mist)  Here we go again.

  With that, the elf boldly stepped into the mists, vanishing as they
transported his body to some unknown place.

Otto:  I'm not afraid to admit it:  I'll never get used to this.  (he
  follows Belphanior, disappearing into the arcane vapors)

  One by one, the others also followed, putting their individual fears
and worries aside as they hoped to find some great treasure.  That was,
after all, what adventurers did for a living.

next:       a new dungeon, and a new challenge
released:   8/5/05
notes:      I'll probably stick with this storyline for a while.  The
  voyage arc is at a very good stopping point, and I really want to
  finish the gateway arc and get on to other things.

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