Chapter #1042

previous chapter (#1041)                                                                  next chapter (#1043)

                                   +   +
                                 +       +
                               +           +
                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      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 sorceress/sage/astrologer      +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/11/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "We don't have all the answers...but we do have purpose."             +
+                         - Andromache of Scythia, from _The Old Guard_   +

                   MXLII.  Breakthrough

  More than a month after the great magical explosion in Mesoloth's vault,
those left behind have at last made some progress, thanks to the tireless
efforts of Neera.  Using knowledge found within the vast library here,
combined with various magical items and her natural aptitude for problem-
solving and discovery, the sorceress has figured out exactly how to defy
the vault's powerful protective enchantments.

Neera:  This means that we can take any of our - or the dragon's - magic
  items out of here, and bring them back, freely.
Mongo:  Well, really, they're ALL our items now.
Neera:  Good point.

  One such example of that fact now rested atop her raven-tressed head.
The crown hadn't been in the vault's many shelves, but rather hidden away
in a chest within Mesoloth's personal chambers, found only recently by
Mongo and Ys.  Neera's guess was that the dragon had been using the item
for some recent endeavor, and that was why it had been stashed elsewhere.
Regardless, it had actually turned out to be a good find.  The thin band
of mithril barely weighed anything, but both its rune-covered inner side
and the small blue sapphire set in the front outer side were enchanted
with tremendously powerful magic.  Wearing this crown had meant doffing
the magical braid of rope that granted her a basic measure of protection,
but the trade-off was well worth it.  The mithril crown was an artifact
of Boccob, and a quite potent one at that:  its wearer saw a significant
amplification of their existing spellcasting ability.  Without the item,
Neera's most powerful spell was the divination enchantment known as Legend
Lore; however, with the crown on her head, her intellect and power were
bolstered such that she was capable of casting a Wish spell.  The drawback
was that the thing could only be worn safely for a short time each day
without risking ill effects to the mind, culminating in utter insanity.
Of course, Neera didn't mention that to Ys and Mongo, because she didn't
want them to know that or worry about her.  She knew her limits and what
she was doing, and was certain that she could manage those side effects
to keep them in check.

Ys:  So what happens next?
Neera:  I cast this counterspell - it's the reverse element of the exact
  enchantment which bars magical items from leaving this place - and then,
  if I've worked it out properly, that one component of the true dweomer
  will be negated.
Mongo:  (sarcastically)  Of course!  Why didn't I think of that?
Neera:  (gives him the evil eye)
Mongo:  Sorry!  Just kidding!
Ys:  So you reversed that part of the dragon's spell which bound magical
  things here?
Neera:  Basically.  I still believe that the wyrm had some mechanism by
  which it could just disarm the ward - or perhaps carry items through it
  without ill effect - but analyzing and negating the ward turned out to
  be easier.  (she frowns)  Not that it was easy, but you get my meaning.
  I solved the problem, but my solution was really just a workaround.
Ys:  Indeed.  When shall we test this?
Neera:  Right now.  I want to know...I need to know.  (to both of them)
  You two need to be silent now - I must focus, as the slightest mistake
  could have dire repercussions for us all.

  With the magical crown on her head and the powerful tome in her hands,
the sorceress began to carefully recite pieces of an arcane formula that
very, very few wizards (or anyone else, for that matter) had ever seen or
heard.  She had previously verified and rehearsed the precise order and
pronunciation of the various syllables, and that preparation now ensured
that things went as intended.  As Neera chanted quietly, the gigantic rune
once again materialized over the stone of the vault's bottom floor.  This
time, instead of glowing with a soft yellowish-orange light, it took on a
pale blue hue; there was also no humming and vibration from the walls all
around them.

Mongo:  Is the-
Ys:  (holds one finger to his mouth, reminding the dwarf of the need for

  The bluish light began to spread outward from the gigantic rune in an
omnidirectional wave, covering the entire first floor before moving up to
gradually encompass the entire vault.

Mongo:  (quietly)  Whoa.

  Moments later, the blue glow abruptly vanished, without any sound or
other effect aside from its sudden absence.

Neera: done.  (she slumps, obviously weakened and dazed)
Ys:  (catches her before she can fall to the floor, and removes the thin
  mithril crown from her head)  No more of this right now.  You are going
  to rest.  Again.
Neera:  (wearily)  But...we test...
Ys:  And we shall - while you sleep.  Fear not, if this place begins
  showing signs of collapse, we will bring the magical items back inside.

  It appeared that Neera intended to continue debating this...but then
exhaustion caught up with her and she passed out.  After Ys deposited her
on the couch and covered her with a blanket, he and Mongo got down to it.

Mongo:  So how are we going to do this?
Ys:  (sighs, an odd sound coming from his huge toothy maw)  Unfortunately,
  before she fell into slumber, she failed to remove all the stone barring
  the upper area of the passage.  But I'd imagine we could simply approach
  yonder exit carrying some of our items, and see what happens.
Mongo:  (hefts his warhammer)  Let's get to it, then.  I'm tired of all
  this waiting around.

  Despite not being fully armored up, each of them was carrying several
of their normal magical items.  They made their way toward the opening of
the passage that the larger party had used to get here, over a month ago.

Mongo:  (eyes the surrounding walls and the ceiling above, as they walk)
  No falling debris...those are good signs.
Ys:  Indeed.  (as they reach the bare stone wall that marks the beginning
  of the "plugged" portion of the exit passage, he looks around, expecting
  some reaction from the vault, like all the other times before)  Nothing.
Mongo:  (slaps a palm up against the barrier)  I think we're home free,
  then.  If only we'd gotten rid of this already!  (he frowns)  I _could_
  just smash through it with my hammer.
Ys:  (looks alarmed)
Mongo:  No, just kidding.  I can't really use my strength that way...I'd
  end up destroying the whole damn place.  I'm sure Neera can take care
  of this blockage after she wakes up.
Ys:  She can.  And we know we're close to breathing fresh air again.
Mongo:  Yeah.  One more day, or night, won't kill us.

  And indeed, it didn't.  They were bored, but after making some basic
preparations to venture outside sometime soon, they each turned in for
the night.  Or at least they thought it was the night, for all sense of
time, of day versus night, had been lost during their many weeks in this
place.  Neera had somehow been keeping track using magic, and had been
advising them of the time of day as well as the passage of days, but to
tell the truth, they weren't so sure anymore.
  All of that changed on the morrow, when they woke up to find the stone
cleared away, and Neera already hard at work on the next task.

Neera:  (having cleared away all of the books, scrolls, quills, and such
  on the table, she now seems intent on replacing all of that with other
  materials)  Good morning!
Mongo:  You're awful cheerful.  (he rubs his eyes as he walks around)  Is
  it morning?
Neera:  (gestures to the exit passageway)  Let's go find out.

  The trio had been waiting for weeks to retrace their original path,
from the mountainside ledge through all of the barriers and traps and
down into the treasure vault - only in reverse and with their magical
items intact.  First, they ascended the ten-foot wide counter-clockwise
staircase for twenty feet, coming up against the final (now first) door
of thick stone.  Previously, Mongo had pulled it open from the other side
using his immense strength; now, it was ajar again thanks to Neera.

Mongo:  How did you...?
Neera:  (shrugs)  Magic.

  Beyond the heavy portal was the antechamber cavern, a hundred feet
across and about that high.  This was the area that had seemed suited
for some huge guardian monster, but now (as before) it was empty.  On
its far side was the smaller door with the lever next to it, in the
down position.

Ys:  Belphanior never did say what sort of trap this was...only that he
  disarmed it.
Neera:  (nods)  After getting through from the other side, in gaseous
  form.  (she pushes the door open, revealing the ten-foot wide passage
  that slopes upward, very gradually, with occasional steps cut into the
  stone and magical torches in sconces every twenty feet or so)

  This ascending walkway also had a number of disarmed traps along its
winding length; all had been dealt with on the way in, using various
methods.  The walkway eventually ended at a massive wooden door, banded
with iron.  Next to this side of the portal was a vertical wooden lever,
currently in the lowered position since the previous disabling of the
powerful electrical trap here.  They moved onward, into the 20' circular
chamber on the other side.

Neera:  And the last barrier...(she works a spell, creating a magical
  path through the final thirty feet of solid rock)

  The sunlight that now shone into their eyes seemed impossibly bright,
and the cool air fresh and clean.  They walked out to the narrow ledge
on the side of the mountain, and gazed out at the nearby peaks and the
forested slopes all around.

Ys:  Ahhhh.
Mongo:  I'll admit, it is nice, especially after all those long weeks of
  studying and such that you did.  (he turns to the sorceress)  Thanks.
Neera:  (smiles)  You're welcome...but it's not over yet.  I may have
  defeated the ward that kept our magical belongings trapped down there,
  but there's a great deal of work left to do.  We must determine what
  happened to the others, and then figure out how to contact them and
  get them back here.  (she frowns)  And I'll suggest to you that we do
  all of that...from here.  (she points back down the way they came). Or
  more accurately, from there.
Mongo:  We should?  Down there?  I don't get it.  Wouldn't you want to
  do your reading and testing in some big guild, in some big city?
Neera:  I can research just as effectively from here as I could anywhere
  else.  It's not like we can take all of the books and items from here
Ys:  Which brings up another issue...we don't want to leave all of this
  treasure here, unguarded.
Neera:  (nods)  Any way you look at it, staying here makes the most sense.
Mongo:  Hrmph.  (a bit irritated, as he was expecting to get back to his
  own life and plans now)
Ys:  She's right.  And we'll need your strong right arm to help protect
  the hoard, down there in the vault, in case anyone DOES show up to take
  it.  I can fight, and can even take on a score of foes, but you...have
  the hammer and the power to do even greater things.
Mongo:  Well, I guess I could stay and help out for now...
Ys:  And you'll eat no finer meals than those produced by that wondrous
Mongo:  Yeah, there is that.
Neera:  We also have to consider that, if or when we do locate the others,
  they may well need our help...not just my magic, but also your fighting
Mongo:  (sighs, resigned to staying in or near the dragon's vault for a
  while longer)  Well, these are all pretty good reasons.
Neera:  I'll tell you what.  If you can remain here for a while longer,
  I promise that if you do decide you need to go, I'll make that happen
  right away, using my magic.
Mongo:  I guess I could do that.  How long do you think it will be?
Neera:  Hopefully not too long.  I now have a rudimentary understanding
  of the warding magic, and I already had a similar understanding of the
  working of the Eye of Celestian.  While I'll need to research the latter
  a bit more, I feel that - using the items and knowledge we have here - I
  can eventually decipher the mystery of exactly what happened during that
  mystical explosion...which should lead us to the others.
Ys:  Indeed.
Neera:  And then, we can bring them back, or go to them and help them, if
Mongo:  Are you sure you can do it?
Neera:  Yes...or at least, I'm as sure as anyone can be.  In addition to
  the Eye of Celestian - which allows us to travel anywhere, even to other
  planes of existence - we have the Seeking Scroll, which can determine
  the location of anyone or anything...and the Loom of Ages, which lets
  us look into the past and learn things.

  She didn't need to mention the Finger of Boccob - which could help them
identify the nature and properties of other magical items - or the mighty
ring they'd found in the vault, which would allow its wearer three wishes.
While some would have simply suggested trying one of those wishes to find
their missing companions, Neera had a strong suspicion that the others
were currently somewhere beyond the power of such magic to locate.
  In any event, the young sorceress intended to learn the answer as soon
as possible.

Neera:  (sets her jaw)  I'm going to find Belphanior and the others...and
  wherever they are, figure out how to bring them back here.

next:       we shift back to the others in their new unknown land
released:   10/2/20
notes:      I will confess, I retroactively added the crown to the hoard
  of Mesoloth, but at least I did it in a way that made sense.  Also, I
  finished this one on Labor Day 2020, though the bulk of it had existed
  for a couple of weeks, as I wrote two different chunks previously (the
  discovery portion and the emergence portion) but didn't connect them
  until the holiday weekend.
previous chapter (#1041)                                                                  next chapter (#1043)