Chapter #1052

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                                   +   +
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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 sorceress/sage/astrologer      +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/21/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "You will be thrilled to see how much can be learned when we use      +
+    artifacts as tools, not collectibles."                               +
+             - Paracelsus, from _Warehouse 13_ episode _Endless Terror_  +

                   MLII.  A Dark Realm Revealed

  After bolstering her natural abilities with a quite potent combination
of magical items, Neera has just given the others some good news...

Neera:  I know where they are.
Mongo:  What?!?
Ys:  That is reassuring to hear.
Neera:  Well, that's the good news.  The bad news is that getting to them
  may prove...challenging.
Ys:  How so?
Neera:  They aren't anywhere in the Outer Planes...or the Inner Planes,
  for that matter.
Mongo:  (somewhat flippantly)  I never did know the difference.
Neera:  Without delving into detail about the nature of the multiverse...
  our friends have been transported to a strange and distant realm, well
  outside of the known structure and ruled by dark beings from primordial
  times.  Opening a portal, or even communicating with them, is going to
  take a bit of effort.

  She knew this much thanks to the Seeking Scroll, the enchanted mapping
function of which had provided some strange illustrations along with an
obscure term.  She had researched the latter, finding several references
to it in various dusty tomes in the dragon's library.  And she wasn't
sure which was more astounding:  the dark realm itself, or the fact that
she'd never before known (or even heard) of it.

Ys:  So what are we dealing with here?  Another plane of existence, like
  the one we traveled to recently?  An alternate world?
Neera:  Those are good guesses, but no, not either exactly.  The dark
  realm in question has numerous names, only a few of them known...the
  most common seems to be the "Domain of Dread" which is actually more
  ominous than it sounds.  It's not an Inner plane, it's not an Outer
  plane, and it's nowhere in-between.  It's just...elsewhere.  Whatever
  mysterious powers control it remains uncertain, but they've been known
  to take individuals - and sometimes entire towns or even lands! - from
  other worlds and somehow bring them to their dark domain.
Mongo:  That's crazy!
Neera:  Perhaps.  Rational thought is unlikely in that place, with those
  beings.  (she sighs)  So our problem is how to get there, given that
  it's under the control and scrutiny of very evil and powerful entities.
  Any attempt to venture there will certainly attract their attention...
  and might well result in us being trapped as well.
Ys:  Trapped?
Neera:  Indeed.  Conventional magic often doesn't function properly, if
  at all, in that grim realm.  Any attempts by Belphanior and the others
  to teleport out - or plane shift, or whatever - surely failed.  Hell,
  even with the Eye of Celestian, it's no sure thing that one could make
  a successful escape.
Mongo:  Well, that stinks.  This isn't good news at all.
Ys:  Perhaps we need not actually journey there...why not just open up a
  portal near them, and let them leave the place that way?
Neera:  (nods)  My thoughts exactly.  I believe that - using the Seeking
  Scroll to find them, that mirror from the dragon's hoard to watch and
  hear them, and the Eye of Celestian to open a portal - we can reach our

  The first thing had already been done, and led to the use of the second,
a gigantic mirror found within the vault.  Neera had asked the warriors to
carry it over to her work area at the table on the third floor, and it had
taken both of them to complete that task.  It wasn't the weight, but the
potentially fragile nature of the large and bulky thing; the mirror was a
good eight feet high, and about six wide.  Framed in old, polished wood of
a dark brown color, its glass was both thick and highly magical.  A quick
study had told Neera everything she needed to know:  it was a potent item
that allowed its owner to read the thoughts of others reflected within,
learn certain things about them, scry both individuals and places, speak
with those being watched, and most importantly, open temporary magical
portals to the subject of any such scrying.
  That last power might well be redundant (with the Eye of Celestian) for
the purpose of reaching the others, but Neera wasn't yet sure.  It never
hurt to have two options; she figured that if they did open a portal using
the mirror and then ventured through it, there was no harm in her carrying
the Eye with her as a failsafe method to return to Oerth.  With all this
in mind, she began thoroughly studying the mirror and its use.  It made
sense to look before leaping, so to speak - and the mirror was ideal for
that.  Neera once again marveled at the breadth and depth of the wondrous
trove of magical treasures that Mesoloth had accumulated in its very long

Neera:  (sighs, nearly exhausted from all her efforts)

  Ys and Mongo - particularly the reptilian - had not failed to notice
that the sage-sorceress continued to look and act tired and haggard, day
after day.  In addition to the thick streak of gray that had appeared in
her otherwise black hair, there were dark rings under her eyes (which was
saying something given her dark olive skin color.)  Those same eyes were
perpetually bloodshot now, no matter how much sleep she got - which often
wasn't anywhere near enough.  Neera herself was well aware of these signs
of fatigue and overwork; she was actually thankful that they weren't more
severe, given that she was basically juggling the use of multiple divine
artifacts on a daily basis right now.  She figured the only reason things
weren't worse was that the items involved were relatively benign and not
meant to increase the power of the owner in any direct manner.
  Neera had always favored items and spells (and pursuits) of a mental,
rather than physical, nature; this explained her talents and occupation.
Or more accurately, occupations:  in addition to being a learned sage and
powerful wizard, she was gifted in the art of divination (as it pertained
to all things enchanted) and an astrologer as well.  Belphanior had joked
with her sometimes that she "covered all the S roles" - sorceress, sage,
savant.  And it was true.  Even among magi, the slender young woman was
one in a thousand.  Anything she read, she was able to recall afterward;
this allowed her to memorize seemingly-impossible amounts of knowledge
and draw upon that information when needed.  Over her lifetime, she had
made the maximum use of her intellect and other gifts, and had an orderly,
methodical approach to challenges or problems which tended to result in
them getting solved.
  As had been the case several times in the past, Neera was not only the
right person for the job at hand - she was the best person for it.

Neera:  (takes another sip from one of the potions of vitality found in
  the vault's stores, and continues her reading from one of five books
  currently open and spread across the desk)

  By that evening, the sorceress was confident and ready to try the power
of the magic mirror.  This would be her first attempt to use the device to
peer into that strange, dark other realm.  Mongo and Ys stood behind her
as she faced the huge pane of glass; they were armored up and armed, for
one never knew if such magic might not draw them in.  If that happened,
they were damn sure going to be ready.

Neera:  It shouldn't come to that.  We're just going to try and have a

  There had been a wooden scroll tube fastened to the back side of the
mirror, the parchment within containing several different arcane phrases.
Neera began reciting one such combination of words, undoubtedly from some
language long forgotten by mankind.  The silvery surface of the mirror
gradually took on a darker hue, until it was black...a black like that of
the deepest moonless night.  There appeared to be dark mists in the glass,
swirling gently about.  As Neera continued to chant strange syllables of
power, these vapors slowly parted, revealing a small group of people who
were mostly familiar to the three watchers on this side of the mirror.

Neera:  They're alive!  (she shudders with relief)
Ys:  Thank the gods.
Mongo:  Or no thanks to the gods, maybe.

  In addition to the six companions they knew, there were a few others
unfamiliar to Neera, Ys, and Mongo:  a gigantic, heavyset man with a huge
scimitar...a young, almost rosy-cheeked lad with a crossbow slung across
his back...a confident- and competent-looking warrior-woman with curly
black hair...a tall, lean, dark-skinned fellow with a longsword at his
side...and a middle-aged woman who might have been a wizard or priestess
now accompanied Belphanior and the rest.

Ys:  New allies, most likely.
Mongo:  Which makes sense.
Neera:  (trying to make out other details of the scene they are watching
  through the magic mirror)

  While most of the group were on horseback, Otto was driving a gigantic
wagon, which appeared to be armored and was pulled by a team of massive
horses.  The party was descending a long, winding road toward the bottom
of a wide valley, where a small cozy-looking town awaited them.  It was
well into dusk, the daylight having almost completely faded into night.
Silhouetted against the light of one of three different moons, in the
distance atop a jagged spire of rock, was a grand but sinister-looking
old castle.  Even from here - a world or more away, and seen through a
relatively small window - that structure conveyed a palpable sense of

Neera:  (shivers involuntarily)
Ys:  Let us hope they venture to the town before they visit that castle.
Mongo:  And during the daytime, too.
Neera:  (grows impatient, and decides to attempt communication with the
  others in the distant realm)

  The sorceress had studied all of the mirror's various powers, and felt
confident in utilizing them.  She uttered yet more arcane words, causing
the thing's surface to shimmer slightly...and then it was time to speak,
and be heard by those being watched.

Neera:  Belphanior.

  The image within the mirror clearly showed the elf turn and look right
at them, but he seemed confused.  And then, suddenly, the mirror's glass
surface clouded up with black mists which obscured everything!  Bound by
her role as the user of the device, Neera just stood there as if dazed,
her eyes reflecting the now-dark surface of the mirror-

Ys:  (having an uneasy feeling, he reaches over and grips Neera's arm
  tightly)  Neera!
Neera:  (snaps out of her trance with a start, and staggers back several
  steps)  What-  (she blinks, then regards the mirror, whose surface is
  now back to its normal silvery state)
Ys:  Are you all right?
Neera:  (shakes her head to clear it)  I'm...fine now.
Mongo:  What the hell just happened?
Neera:  I suspect that someone - or something - doesn't care for our
  attempts to speak with our friends.  (she frowns)  Which is certainly
  a new challenge, but one that won't stop me.

next:       the next step
released:   12/11/20
notes:      I have an analogy to Neera's use of potions of vitality etc
  to help her power through her work.  I've never been a coffee drinker
  through my fifty years of life, but sometime in 2019 I discovered the
  magic (no pun intended) of energy drinks.  Yes, I know.  A bit of trial
  and error quickly showed me which ones were most effective with the
  least side effects.
    Anyway, when I need it (or anytime I'm driving into work in the wee
  dark hours of the morning) I chug a 5-Hour Energy to make sure I'm as
  alert and focused as I need to be.  I have no quantifiable way to say
  whether these things have a real effect on me, but I will note that I
  never feel tired right after drinking one (even if I was tired before
  doing so.)
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