Chapter #1040

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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       +
+   1991-2020 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!                                          +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          6/19/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midmorning                                             +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "This place has everything."                                          +
+   "Everything except a reason why."                                     +
+                              - from _Fantastic Four #88, July 1969      +

                   MXL.  Meanwhile, Back on Oerth...

  Two weeks have passed since the immense and arcane explosion in the
underground lair of the slain purple dragon Mesoloth.  Most of the party
is gone, apparently transported elsewhere; only Neera, Ys, and Mongo
remain.  Furthermore, they are unable to take any magical item, from the
simplest potion to the mightiest artifact, out of this place.  Their
attempts to do so - three times in the two-week span - have all resulted
in the same sort of tremors that threatened to collapse the massive vault
the first time.

Neera:  (sighs)

  The sorceress was certain that her earlier theory was correct, regarding
what had happened:  the dragon had somehow placed a protective ward of
surpassing power upon its lair, to prevent its vast treasure hoard from
ever being plundered.  The similarly-powerful transportational magic of
the Eye of Celestian had challenged the dragon's ward...and neither had
won.  Or perhaps both, depending on how one looked at it.  The other six
had been closest to the Eye, and were gone; the other three (all distant
from the Eye at that time, for various reasons) had not been affected by
whatever the hell had happened.
  The fact that the six missing companions' magical items were still here
suggested that the ward remained intact - a fact verified by the three
unsuccessful attempts to remove various enchanted items from this place.

Neera:  (wearily studies the walls and roof of the immense vault, for the
  hundredth time, and sighs)

  That was another mystery.  During the moments leading up to the colossal
magical explosion, they had all seen cracks forming in the underground
chamber, as well as a great deal of falling debris.  Indeed, that was
exactly the reason Belphanior had decided to employ the Eye of Celestian
to try and escape the place.  Yet the vault had no visible damage - its
roof bore no signs of damage or impending collapse, and there was also no
evidence of the dust and debris that had fallen previously.  It was as if
the stone and earth of the vault had somehow rebuilt itself.  Mongo had
muttered something about "powerful earth magic" possibly being at work,
while Ys suggested that the unseen repair work was just a more powerful
variation of the magically-automated broom and dustpan that kept the area
clean.  For Neera's part, she simply added it to her list of mysteries to
solve.  Her list was actually a bit more detailed than that:

    - are the others alive, and if so, where?
    - how does the vault rebuild its damage?

    - can't bring any magical items out of the vault

    - otherwise, we are free to go outside (spells needed to make path)
    - unlimited food and drink, due to magical table
    - we have all of our own magic items, plus those belonging to the
      missing, plus Mesoloth's items
    - we also have access to a vast amount of knowledge from this library
    - artifact that allows us to look into the past (Loom of Ages)
    - artifact that can supposedly determine the location of anything
      (Seeking Scroll)
    - artifact that can identify the powers and properties of other items
      (finger of Boccob)
    - ring with three wishes
    - multiple items that will boost my spellcasting abilities

  Neera hadn't bothered to notate what might have been the single biggest
limitation that they faced:  almost all of the work to be done here could
only be done by her.  It would have been the challenge of a lifetime, if
not for the stress of solving two major problems (finding and rescuing the
others, and figuring out how to defeat the ward preventing any magic items
from being taken out of the vault.)  She had almost immediately decided to
focus on the first one; in addition to being more pressing, it also seemed
to be the least difficult of the two.  Indeed, although Neera would never
admit it to Mongo and Ys, she would have been happy to spend a year here,
reading and scrying and learning.  Of course, while that could someday be
possible, the current priority was to figure out what had happened to
Belphanior and the others.
  The first order of business had been to gather items that would benefit
her or better prepare her for the intensive research ahead:  the scroll
tube that imparted luck to its owner, several potions that boosted her
stamina, allowed her greater clarity of thought, and so on.  Her plan was
to take small sips of these, as needed at any particular time.  Next, she
commandeered the table on the third floor, covering it with whatever tomes
and scrolls she felt she needed (which quickly became dozens.)  While the
other two could sit at the table to get food and eat, they deemed it best
to otherwise stay away and not distract the sage/sorceress.  Although she
had previously advised them that she might need their help fetching books
and such, Neera had done all of that on her own - and seemed intent on
continuing to do so.  Thus, the two warriors had to occupy their time in
other ways.

Mongo:  (wandering around the first floor, looking at the vast array of
  weapons on display)  This stinks.
Ys:  It could be worse.  At least we have an immense and varied armory to
Mongo:  I know.  I mean, it's fun and all that.  I just feel useless here.
  (he gestures to Stormcrest, which along with his armor is resting in one
  corner)  You know, I can wreck a hut, or take down a giant...but in this
  place, in this situation, there's nothing I can do to help.
Ys:  (nods)  Understood.  We can only stay out of Neera's way for so long.

  They had already decided that there was little point in venturing up and
outside; for one thing, the party had previously re-sealed the path down
here when they first arrived.  Multiple spells would be needed to re-open
the way, and Neera was more than a little busy; besides, Mongo was a dwarf
and had no pressing need to be outside.  As for Ys, he claimed to not care
either, though Mongo suspected the big reptilian was just saying that to
make things simpler.  In any event, even if they had asked Neera to create
a route to the surface, it would still end at a small ledge on the side
of the mountain, where they'd originally arrived via magical means.  The
effort would be good for getting some fresh air, but little more.

Mongo:  I guess we're as secure as we can be, the way things are now.
Ys:  (nods)  No one knows where this place is, and if they did, it would
  take significant effort from a powerful mage - or several - to get into
  this place.
Mongo:  Yeah.  (having stopped to regard a large battleaxe on display with
  all the other weapons, he frowns)  Hmm.
Ys:  Eh?
Mongo:  I've got an idea.
Ys:  (wondering if there's something special about this particular axe,
  that only the dwarf knows about)  I'm listening.
Mongo:  One of the powerful magic items that Neera identified, a couple
  weeks ago before the problems started...was a map.  (he chuckles)  I
  even called it stupid at the time.
Ys:  I recall.  Neera said that that map would always show a detailed
  depiction of all rooms, passages, and so forth, within a few hundred
  feet - including secret and concealed doors and passages.  (he nods)
Mongo:  (grins)  We can take it and roam this place looking for hidden

  It was a trivial thing - a simple (if magically-enabled) search for any
previously undiscovered chambers or passages - but to the warriors, who
had been fairly bored for quite a while now, it sounded like a whole lot
of fun.  Of course, they checked with Neera first, just to let her know
what they were up to (and also that they would be using an item from the
hoard.)  She waved them off, absorbed in a thick tome dedicated to the
various and sundry details of warding magic.

Mongo:  (wasting no time, he heads down the third-floor passageway, map
  in hand, Ys following closely behind)

  They had re-armed and -armored themselves, just in case.  Mongo actually
didn't figure they'd find any new treasure chambers, as the existence of
such wouldn't make sense given all the other treasure that was out in the
open.  As had been stated before, this was someone's home and library, not
a dungeon; except for the ward that prevented any magical items from being
removed from the place, all protective measures had been dealt with before
entering the vault.  Still, he was a dwarf and an adventurer, so he had to
  Starting with the topmost floor, they made their way around the entire
rectangular passageway, then descended to the second floor and repeated
the process before finally moving to the first floor to finish up.  Given
Neera's description of the map's use, the thorough walking survey wasn't
technically necessary, but old exploratory habits were hard to break, and
they checked the entire vault in the manner that they'd have done without
any magical assistance.  As it turned out, there was in fact something
else to be found here, on the middle level...

     TOP VIEW OF SECOND FLOOR (with new discovery)
            |  ______  |.       ____
            | |      | |       /    \
            | | open | |______/__/   \
            | | space|  /_____      ##
            | |      | |      \      /
            | |      | |.      \*___/
            | |_____@| |
                    ^ ^
                    | |________ spiral staircase up
                    |__________ spiral staircase down

  The enchanted map indicated a passageway directly behind one of the many
massive bookcases on this floor, specifically one containing texts about
modern and ancient history.  Mongo searched the bottom shelves for some
sort of trigger, while Ys checked the higher ones.  Before they could find
anything, however...the entire section of bookcase just opened on its own,
swinging inward without a sound.

Ys:  Aha.
Mongo:  That's odd.  It's like the door just knew someone was outside and
  wanted to come in.
Ys:  Perhaps simply having the map, and the intent, triggered it.
Mongo:  (peers into the dark hallway...which suddenly illuminates thanks
  to a series of crystals embedded in the walls, about five feet above
  floor level)  Whoa.
Ys:  It seems the dragon was a creature of luxury.  I wonder what its
  human form looked like.
Mongo:  I wonder if it had two heads.
Ys:  (considers this)

  Beyond the inward-opening bookcase/wall was the hallway with its light-
crystals; ten feet wide and a bit higher, it had a high arched ceiling
fashioned of ornate wooden beams.  The passage opened into a comfortably
opulent bedchamber of hexagonal shape and about fifty feet across.  The
side opposite the entry door held a large bed; to the left was a sizable
closet area containing a small number of fine outfits.  A large wooden
bathtub stood to the right, resting on four thick metal feet.

Mongo:  The bedroom of a dragon.
Ys:  Or at least its human form.  I am no expert on dragons, but it seems
  odd that this one preferred to spend so much time in another guise.
Mongo:  (frowns)  I'm still wondering if, as a human, it had two heads.

  They didn't explore the bedroom extensively, as they lacked any form of
magic or trap detection and would need Neera's help for that.  For now, it
was enough that they'd found a previously unknown area within the vault.

Mongo:  (holding the map)  And that's it.  Nothing else to be found in the
  whole place.
Ys:  Very well.

  Truth be told, that was about the most exciting day either of the two
warriors had had in the last two weeks.  The routine of sleeping, eating
magically-conjured food, and wandering the halls of the vault looking at
all the treasures...grew old after a few days.  Neither of them had ever
done a lot of reading, so the vast store of material and knowledge here
meant little to them.  The one saving grace was that the enchanted table
really could conjure forth anything they could think of, meaning that a
distant memory of a fine meal could (and did) actually become that same
meal, right before their eyes.  In every case, the conjured food and drink
were perfect - just as good as they had been in the past.  Thus, every
meal was a feast, and since both of them had enjoyed eating for their
entire lives, the variety in their meals was astounding.

Ys:  If this keeps up, we'll get fat and have to be rolled out of here.
Mongo:  Bah.

  Neera, on the other hand, ate very little, and seemed to have to remind
herself to do even that.  She was completely and utterly focused on her
research, and in addition to (or perhaps to help with) the main two goals,
she'd first spent some time figuring out everything they knew about the
slain owner of this place.  Beyond the fairly different personalities of
Mesoloth's two heads, there were a number of notable personality traits
to consider.  The dragon had a strong collector mentality and, over a long
period of time, had accumulated far more magical items than it (or anyone)
could ever use.  This was evident to any casual observer, but only some
would notice the additional element of completeness in the collection.
For example, certain "sets" of magical items contained every possible
variety:  the golem manuals, the aligned wizard tomes, and so on.  Neera
already realized that the dragon had also enjoyed being in human form, to
best handle and enjoy its vast hoard of magic items.  This vault was clear
evidence of that, especially given the lounge/study area and the newly-
discovered bedroom chamber.
  These personality traits, Neera realized, all combined to profile an
individual - for she thought of Mesoloth more as a person than a dragon -
who had obsessed over gathering a virtually unlimited quantity of magical
treasure and arcane knowledge.  Its desire for such went beyond mere greed
like typical dragons - it actually had a genuine love for magical lore and
items, and had built a special place to keep and showcase them.  While the
location was only intended for the dragon itself, and while it guarded its
hoard very, very well...logic dictated that there had to be some means of
removing enchanted items from its vault.  No intelligent being, not even
a mighty and ancient dragon, would prevent itself from being able to take
its treasure out if needed.  There had to be a way.

Neera:  (talking to herself, but firmly)  There has to be a way.
Mongo:  (nearby)  Eh?
Neera:  (looks up with weary eyes)  If you two want to be of more use,
  you could scour these shelves for any sort of journal, belonging to the
  dragon.  Such a thing could provide valuable insight into its history,
  its motivations, and its secrets.
Mongo:  (thinking about how this idea sounds about as exciting as watching
  grass grow, he raises his hand)  I don't-
Ys:  (cheerfully)  We would be delighted to help you out.  However, maybe
  first you should consider helping _yourself_ out by getting more rest
  and eating more.
Neera:  (rubs her temples)  I'm sorry.  I did not mean to be...testy.
  It's just that the sheer amount of work here is overwhelming.
Mongo:  Hey, no worries.
Ys:  (nods)  Fear not.  This is truly a monumental task ahead, but there
  is no one better suited for it than you.
Neera:  (smiles)  I hope you're right.

next:       these efforts continue, and kick into high gear
released:   9/18/20
notes:      In case you need a reminder, the events leading up to this
  episode took place in episodes 1009-1010, whereas the next batch (1011
  through 1039) focused on Belphanior and the others dealing with the
  Barony of Tarkus.
    Researching past episodes to write this one was actually somewhat
  exhausting...I had to check 1005, 1006, 1007, and 1009 among others.

    Random trivia:  November 2021 will mark the 30th anniversary of the
  date I started writing these stories. a long time.
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