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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 +
+ 1991-2016 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! +
+ Date: 6/5/581 C.Y. (Common Year) +
+ Time: midmorning +
+ Place: a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains +
+ Climate: moderate +
+ "Everything powerful is dangerous." +
+ - from _Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._ episode _The Asset_ +
MX. Mesoloth's Last Laugh
Neera had never been one to wake up slowly. Unlike most people, who
drifted from unconsciousness to consciousness gradually and at their own
pace, she tended to awaken with mind racing at full speed. Thus, before
she even opened her eyes, she was already recalling the last thing that
had happened: the tremendous blast of magical energy, and a light so
bright that it was seen and felt through closed eyes. What had it been?
And what exactly had caused it? For that matter, were the adventurers
dead, their souls now on some other plane of existence? Such things were
not uncommon, in her experience, especially when dealing with very potent
Neera: (opens her eyes slowly, and immediately recoils from a mouthful
of sharp fangs) Aie!
Ys: (touches her shoulder gently) Don't be alarmed. It's just me.
As her vision cleared, the sorceress realized that it was indeed her
companion, and not some horrible monster, staring her in the face. She
began to sit up, but immediately regretted that attempt, as a powerful
wave of nausea swept through her body.
Ys: It should pass. Mine did, after a few moments.
Neera: (looks around, slowly and for the first time since awakening)
We're still in the vault.
Mongo: (wanders into view) Well, some of us are.
Neera: (blinks, shaking her head to try and clear the queasiness) What
do you mean?
However, she answered her own question simply by finally taking a good
look around. After that titanic explosion, she would have expected the
three-tiered library-vault to be decimated, its contents destroyed or
scattered about. Not so. No blast marks or soot covered the walls, no
fires raged...and every book, scroll, and item was in place. In fact,
there were quite a few new additions to the chamber, although they were
Mongo: (gestures to the six piles of assorted magical items in different
locations on the topmost floor) I already checked. Each of those six
piles matches, exactly, what Belphanior, Otto, Razor Charlie, Skektek,
Hope, and Irina were carrying. At least the magical stuff. (he eyes
the sheathed Blackrazor, wondering idly how long it's been since that
dark blade has been out of Belphanior's possesion)
Neera: And you didn't wake me- (she frowns) Just how long have you two
Ys: Mongo woke up first, as did I a short while later.
Mongo: (somewhat apologetically) We thought it would be better to let
you rest for a while.
Neera: I see. (she stands up, taking Ys' offered arm for support) From
the looks of things, I'd guess the six of them are either elsewhere...
or destroyed. (she eyes the six piles of items, several of which are
substantial) Less all of their magic items, obviously.
Mongo: Yeah, how the hell did that happen?
Ys: And why didn't Belphanior know of this trap? I thought he used the
Loom of Ages to view the past.
Neera: I can answer one of those questions with certainty, and take a
good stab at the other. Watching past events through the power of the
loom is much like reading a rather thick book, one filled with mostly
Mongo: Well, at least you put it in terms I can understand.
Neera: The wielder of the loom - no matter how skilled in its use - sees
any past events in real time, meaning at the same speed they happened
before. So in order to note every detail about something, one would
have to utilize the item for the same amount of time. A battle that
took three whole days...would require three whole days to watch, if you
wanted to see EVERYTHING that happened during that battle. For this
place...the construction alone would have taken weeks if not months.
And who knows exactly when Mesoloth worked whatever enchantment keeps
magic items here? Simply put, Belphanior didn't have the time to study
this vault's past enough to see and know everything.
Neera: The Loom is incredibly powerful, and useful, but that usefulness
is proportional to the amount of time one has available, to spend with
it. (she frowns) Also, I've been led to understand that its use is
mentally taxing. Even one of genius intellect can only utilize the
thing for so long before fatigue sets in. Many a night I've seen
Belphanior after he spent time with the item...with red eyes, dark
circles around his eyes, and nearly exhausted. And he usually sleeps
for half a day afterwards.
Mongo: (pats Stormcrest) That's why I prefer weapons and armor for my
magic. So about what happened...well, what _do_ you think happened?
Neera: My theory - and remember, this is just a theory right now - is
that whatever enchantment Mesoloth used to keep magic items here was
abnormally powerful, at least equivalent to a Wish spell...and when
that enchantment was challenged by one from an item of similar power-
Ys: The Eye of Celestian.
Neera: (nods) Neither functioned properly, and in fact they combined
to function in a manner no one could have planned, or guessed, would
happen. (she frowns, thinking rapidly) The spell guarding this vault
obviously has something to do with magically transporting magic items
back here, rather than allowing them to leave. And the Eye's purpose
is to transport people and objects through space, and even planes of
Mongo: It would be like a sturdy battering ram hitting a powerful wall.
(he nods) Or my warhammer hitting a golem made of mithril or adamant.
Neera: Yes. The classic "unstoppable force meeting an immovable object"
scenario...except with magical forces at the upper limit of conceivable
power. (she sighs) The best case - the absolute BEST case - is that
our six friends were drawn through a rift in space, and transported to
another location...either on this world, or perhaps another. The worst
case...well...(she looks around sadly)
Mongo: (helpfully) At least there aren't six piles of ash over there.
That's got to be a good sign.
Ys: And what of the three of us? Why were we not affected?
Neera: My guess would be that the three of us were furthest from the Eye
of Celestian when Belphanior attempted to use it. (to Mongo) You were
actually outside the vault, at the beginning of the passage up to the
surface. (to Ys) And you, like me, were over here near this alcove,
almost a hundred feet away from the Eye. So whatever it was, exactly,
that happened...the three of us were apparently outside its influence.
Mongo: (looking around, he strokes his unkempt beard) That makes sense.
Ys: (makes an odd face as something occurs to him) Seven.
Ys: Six, plus the wispy thing.
Ys: I don't see the wisp here, so I'd assume it also shared the fate of
Belphanior and the others, whatever that fate was.
Neera: (nods) And that's our next course of action...we need to devote
all of our time and resources to finding our friends. (she doesn't
bother to add "if they still live" as she can't allow herself to think
like that right now)
Mongo: If you're talking about scrying and studying and all of that kind
of mumbo-jumbo, just remember that our scaly friend and I won't be much
help. (to Ys) Unless you're also secretly some kind of lizard-man
Ys: (grins toothily) I am not. Although if I was, you would certainly
have found out by now.
Neera: No, I don't expect you two to be able to help me much. At least
not directly, anyway.
Mongo: You mean we're in charge of guarding this place, and making food?
Neera: The table will actually make all the food we need, if you prefer
not to worry about that duty. Also, I may need you two to assist with
finding and bringing me tomes, scrolls, and items as needed.
Ys: You can count on us.
Mongo: Yeah. And also, if I'm understanding everything you've said since
you woke up, we're basically trapped in here, since we can't bring our
magic items out.
Neera: That appears to be the case, but remember, we do have some really
sizable advantages, too, as we attempt to learn exactly what happened
to the others. And figure out how to get out of here with all of our
Mongo: Advantages? What advantages?
Neera: (gestures all around them) Not only do we have our own magical
items, but also those of the dragon. Among other things, we possess
here an artifact that lets us peer into the past...another artifact
that can supposedly determine the location of anything...yet another
artifact that can help us identify the powers and properties of pretty
much any other magical item...a ring with three wishes...a mirror with
potent scrying powers...several items that will bolster my spellcasting
abilities. And those are just the things that come to mind offhand.
Plus I haven't even considered all the knowledge housed in this place.
Yes, I'd say we definitely have some things working in our favor here.
Ys: Your confidence is refreshing. And contagious.
Neera: (nods, a determined look on her thin face) I'm glad you think
so, because with the magical power currently contained in this vault,
plus my own abilities and experience...there is no excuse for me not
figuring this out. None. (she sets her jaw firmly) Absolutely none.
next: wait and see
notes: This episode, 1010, holds the distinction of being written
entirely from the Dominican Republic, while I was vacationing there in
May 2016. Come to think of it, this is likely the first episode that
was written while I was not on United States soil; I've written parts
of episodes from cruise ships, but can't recall writing while actually
within other countries.
So now, even with the incomplete information Neera pieced together
here, it should be apparent where I'm heading with upcoming Belphanior
stories: he and most of his crew are elsewhere, and wherever it ends
up being, they will have an uphill battle to not only get back home
but just to survive. It's the classic "18th level party stripped of
all their cool stuff" scenario. Incidentally, yes, I do already know
where they are; I just haven't shared that yet.
An unintended but really, really cool side-effect of what just took
place is that Neera ended up being in charge. Not just because she's
the smartest person in the room (although she is) but also because she
happens to be the only one who can solve the dual problems of finding
the others and figuring out how to escape the vault with magical items
intact. Sure, they could all escape...in basic clothing and with no
weapons, armor, spellbooks, etc. But none of them would accept that.
So for now, Neera's in charge. But the task ahead is challenging.
Last but far from least, random trivia: most of you readers will
first see this episode on June 10 2016. Tomorrow, June 11, marks the
anniversary of the too-early death of a man who had a tremendous and
sustained impact on the fantasy genre: Robert E. Howard, the brilliant
but troubled creator of Conan the Barbarian. You can and should read
more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Howard
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