Chapter #1051

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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                               +           +
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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       +
+   1991-2020 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:          7/18/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "Our friends are missing, maybe dead."                                +
+   "Yeah, as always."                                                    +
+        - from _Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._ episode _The Patriot_   +

                   MLI.  A Most Unusual Journey

  Almost a week has passed since Neera defeated the powerful magical ward
that prevented removal of any items from within Mesoloth's vault.  Since
then, she has worked diligently - often feverishly - to determine exactly
what happened to the bulk of the party...whether they are still alive, and
if so, their current location and how to recover them.

Neera:  (leans back, eyeing the Seeking Scroll on the table in front of
  her)  Hmmm.

  Since her first breakthrough, the sorceress had spent the next couple of
days deciphering additional details about how the dragon's warding magic
had worked.  After that, she'd taken several more days with books and the
Finger of Boccob, to research the history and functioning of the Eye of
Celestian.  Due to Belphanior's constant presence in all their previous
adventures, Neera hadn't actually used the item before now.  Her studying
phase had then led to an experimentation phase, in which she used the Eye
to travel to other places to familiarize herself with its function.  She
had proceeded with caution, first trying destinations she knew well:  the
ledge outside and above the vault, and the site of the party's initial
battle with Mesoloth.  She had then ventured to increasingly less familiar
places, such as an obscure library in the city of Rel Mord that she'd once
visited a long time ago.  Her final test within this plane had involved
scrying a random location using a crystal ball, and then journeying there
using the Eye; this had also been a success.  All that remained now was
to attempt travel to a destination that was actually on another plane of
existence - an endeavor best attempted with companions who could help
protect her if she got into trouble.

Mongo:  What's that, now?
Neera:  I'd like you two to accompany me on a quick trip to another...
  world, I guess is the best way to put it.
Ys:  And there's something the average person doesn't hear every day.
Mongo:  We're not average people...never were.  But still...(he grumbles)
Neera:  Don't worry, it's just a test.
Mongo:  Whenever I hear the words "don't worry" used in the same sentence
  as "another world", I can't help but worry.

  The dwarf was understandably concerned, since his preferred weapon - the
mighty warhammer Stormcrest - had deep ties to the earth and actual land.
For this reason, he was always dubious about going anywhere that kept his
feet off of solid ground...flying, sailing, and last but not least, making
occasional journeys to other worlds.

Neera:  I promise, it will be brief.  We just need to make sure that the
  Eye of Celestian functions as it should.  I've already done all the
  lesser tests.
Mongo:  Then why do you need us?  I'm not afraid or anything, but I don't
  get it.  Why not just go there, and then come right back?
Neera:  Well, there's a chance of someone or something being present at
  the moment I arrive there, so I need some backup.  Just in case.  It's
  fortunate that I've got two great warriors right here with me.
Mongo:  Hmph.
Ys:  Perhaps the better question would be, where exactly do you intend
  to go for this test...and how did you choose that destination?
Neera:  Well, that's the good news.  I chose the Seven Heavens, which is
  just about the last place in the multiverse where anyone should bother
Ys:  Let us gather our weapons and such, and then we shall be ready.
Mongo:  Sure.  Whatever.  (he wonders what a "multiverse" is)

  Shortly, the warriors were ready (Neera, it appeared, had been ready for
quite some time).  The sorceress once more held up the large brass sextant
and manipulated its arcane controls...controls whose appearance actually
seemed to shift and change depending on the nature of the user's desired

Neera:  Stand close, now...within about ten feet of me.
Mongo:  (nervous, he shuffles a bit closer)
Ys:  (gazes about)

  The sextant, and the three adventurers, were limned by a blue light as
the divine power of the artifact was engaged.  Motes of mystical energy
appeared all around the item, moving slowly around it (and the three who
were using it) before accelerating, spinning faster and faster until they
formed a glowing blue bubble.  The bubble flashed once, intensely...and
was then gone from the vault, along with those within its confines.

  Far away - VERY far away, to be sure - that same sphere appeared within
about a foot of water, such that when it vanished, the three adventurers
found themselves wet up to their knees.  Or, in Mongo's case, almost to
his groin.

Mongo:  What the...(he pauses, looking around)

  They were standing in the shallows near the shore of a large land mass,
possibly an island.  Further inland loomed a majestic mountain, its sides
decorated with massive citadels fashioned from white stone.  It was night
here, but the dark sky above was filled with bright silvery stars that
provided more light than any moon.  The temperature was like that of the
most pleasant summer night.  Indeed, they had forgotten about their now-
wet feet, because the water was warm and pleasant and invigorating.  Just
standing in it made them feel refreshed and happy.  The sound of the waves
crashing on the shore was not unlike the gentle ringing of chimes.

Mongo:  Well, this is nice.
Ys:  It's too bad we cannot venture ashore and explore this area more.
  It seems a perfect place in which to live.
Neera:  It is...after all, it's the Seven Heavens.  Or more accurately,
  it's the first of them.  Did you know that to reach the Second Heaven,
  one must summit the top of that mountain, here in the First Heaven?
  And so on.
Mongo:  Sounds like a lot of climbing-  Hey!  (he suddenly sees schools
  of tiny silver fish darting through the shallows)  What the hell?
Ys:  They are just fish.  And too small to eat.
Neera:  I wouldn't recommend eating them.  This is the Silver Sea, home
  to all sorts of benevolent life.
Mongo:  (points)  Here comes some more of that life now.
Ys:  Let us hope it proves benevolent.

  At first they thought they were being approached by a horse soaring
through the air...but what a horse!  The magnificent creature was over
a dozen feet long, and covered with luminous golden scales that reminded
them of a beautiful sunrise.  Its mane and tail were a darker share of
gold, while its hooves were pinkish in color.  A large golden horn jutted
from the top of the being's head; it glowed with a gentle mixture of
several colors.

strange creature:  (speaks in a deep, melodious voice)  Greetings, weary
  travelers.  Why are you here?

  It took them a moment to realize that the being was communicating via
telepathy.  Neera, who was more accustomed to this sort of thing than the
other two, quickly took charge of the conversation.

Neera:  (concentrating as she speaks her thoughts)  We are merely passing
  through this realm, and have no objective here other than to simply see
  and witness this glorious place.
strange creature:  (turns its head, regarding each of them in turn)  None
  of you...belong here.  Although none of you are completely unworthy,
Neera:  Agreed.  As I said, we are only passing through briefly.
strange creature:  Judging from that odd sextant you carry, you possess
  the ability to return to whence you came.  I would strongly suggest that
  you do so forthwith.
Neera:  My thoughts exactly.  Err, no pun intended.

  The strange creature simply hovered in the air, gently bobbing up and
down, as Neera again summoned the power of the Eye of Celestian to take
the three of them back to Oerth.  The horse-like being didn't seem overtly
threatening or dangerous, but it somehow conveyed the impression of great
power, without directly doing anything.  It watched them with its violet
eyes, until the blue bubble of energy again manifested...and the trio of
visitors was gone.

strange creature:  Hmm.  (it contemplates the intrusion briefly, then
  flies up and away, into the brightly-lit sky full of twinkling stars)

  Shortly, back in the vault of Mesoloth on Oerth...

Neera:  (appears along with Ys and Mongo within the pulsating bubble of
  spatial energy, which blinks out of existence a couple of moments later)
  Good.  I'm glad that worked.
Mongo:  What, you weren't sure it was going to work?
Ys:  (notices that none of the little silver fish made the journey with
  them, and also that their recently-submerged limbs and items aren't wet
  any longer)
Neera:  I never really had any doubt, but I needed to try it and succeed
  before moving on.
Ys:  Moving on to what?
Neera:  I'm going to use the Seeking Scroll in conjunction with the Eye
  of Celestian...and find our friends.

  And thus began another period of intense work for the sorceress, during
which she alternated use of the various artifacts at her disposal with
yet more research.  What she had said previously was true, however:  due
to the power and variety of those items, she had a tremendous advantage.
The Seeking Scroll could locate people or items, the Eye of Celestian
could take its wielder to them, and the Loom of Ages could be employed to
peer into the past and discover key clues.  And of course, the Finger of
Boccob could assist her with learning the best possible use of those (or
any other) items.
  These assets, combined with Neera's considerable intellect - bolstered
by the mithril Crown of Zagyg she wore at critical times - brought her
some measure of success in a relatively short span of time.  Just three
days after the brief but interesting journey to the outer-planar Seven
Heavens, she announced her next breakthrough.

Neera:  (walks toward the warriors, both of whom are dozing)  We've got
Mongo:  We do?
Ys:  What have you learned?
Neera:  I know where they are.

next:       revelations, and the first attempt to reach the others
released:   12/4/20
notes:      It can be challenging to write stories in which so many
  powerful artifacts exist.  I've said it a dozen times before:  my
  pacing was way off right from the start, because in the original
  campaign (1989-1991) I had no idea what I was doing, and then when
  I started writing original material, I had no sense of what all of
  this would become.  I had artifacts, demon lords, and more in my
  stories far, far too early.  Since I can't go back in time and
  clean things up, the best approach has always seemed to be working
  with what I have, trying to make it make the most sense while yet
  being fun and cool.
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