Chapter #1073

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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       +
+   1991-2021 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!                                          +
+   Belphanior     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+     Poulos        8th level human warrior (currently weakened)          +
+   Irina          14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+   Arusha          5th level human female wizard/alchemist               +
+   Judhon          7th level gnomish illusionist                         +
+   Paige          13th level human female warrior                        +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   Date:          7/2/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          early afternoon                                        +
+   Place:         a vault within the northeastern Yatil Mountains        +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "You're out of your mind."                                            +
+   "That's between me and my mind."                                      +
+      - Simon and Early, from _Firefly_ episode #14, _Objects in Space_  +

                   MLXXIII.  Paradigm Shift

  After returning to the underground vault, Belphanior and the others are
in the process of attending to various matters that need to be dealt with.

Mongo:  Why are we talking without any of the others around?  (he frowns)
  And what the hell are we going to talk about, anyway?
Belphanior:  Because I need to discuss this idea with you first, and get
  your agreement.
Mongo:  Sounds like something I won't like.
Belphanior:  I wouldn't say that...but it's a different way of thinking,
  and doing things.  (he cracks his knuckles)  So here it is.  All these
  years, we - our old group, this group, and probably damn near every
  adventuring group in the world - have divided magic treasure the same
  way.  Everyone chooses, using some process or system, until all of the
  items are given out, and that's that.
Mongo:  Sounds good to me.
Belphanior:  And maybe it is, when the number of items is small and easily
  dealt with.  But in larger hoards, this method is wasteful.  People end
  up carrying around things they will never use - or simply _can't_ use,
  but took just because it was their turn to take something.  (he frowns)
  I think I've found a better way.  What if the bulk of the magic treasure
  stayed in a shared trove - not claimed or belonging to any one person -
  and was simply borrowed from that community pool as needed?
Mongo:  Whoa, wait.  Explain to me how less is better?
Belphanior:  Less is better when you own five swords, but only have one
  sword-arm.  Less is better when you're not keeping something, in your
  pocket or pouch or bag or portable hole or whatever, that you can't use
  because only wizards can use it.  Following that example, in a really
  tough battle, wouldn't it make more sense for one of those wizards to
  be carrying that item?  Or following the other example, wouldn't it be
  better if you did carry and use the one best sword, but the other four
  were instead in use by four other warriors who otherwise wouldn't have
  a magic sword?  And then those other four swords could _also_ be in use
  for each battle?  These are some of the advantages of a larger shared
  collection of magic items.
Mongo:  (considers this)  Like an armory?
Belphanior:  Right.  A really big armory...well-organized, safe, and also
  under constant analysis by Neera, who can figure out what things are and
  how they work.
Mongo:  Hmm.
Belphanior:  I'm not saying that people shouldn't have _some_ items, to
  own and call their own.  Especially ones well-suited for them and their
  abilities, such as your hammer or my sword.  (he frowns)  But just not
Mongo:  So what would this mean for me, with all the stuff here, in the
  dragon's hoard?  Because I'm headed back to the central lands soon, and
  may not see all of you again for a while.
Belphanior:  It would mean you'd only take things you can really use.
Mongo:  (considers his warhammer, his armor, his helm, his shield, his
  rings, his portable hole and all that's inside, and everything else)
  But...I don't need anything.
Belphanior:  My point exactly!  Why take a few more suits of armor, or
  a dozen various weapons, and then carry them around forever but never
  actually use any of them?  Isn't it better to have them stored in some
  central place, where others can have access as needed?
Mongo:  That's easy to say when you're the one who controls that storage.
Belphanior:  I promise you, if you'll just try this new method, that you
  will always be welcome to take and use any item if you have the need.
  Trust me - this way is better.
Mongo:  (frowns)  I just don't know.
Belphanior:  If it helps, I'm going to suggest that, as part of this, all
  of my people contribute some of their items to the community armory.
  The idea works both ways, and we should give up things we don't need.
  And remember, this idea doesn't apply to the money - the coins, gems,
  and such will still be split up.  So you'll still be rich.
Mongo:  I'm already rich.
Belphanior:  Well, you'll be richer.
Mongo:  (gets a gleam in his eye)
Belphanior:  I'd really appreciate your support on this.  I can't ask my
  people to work under this new system if even one other person isn't on
  board with the idea.
Mongo:  (he frowns)  Your words make sense, but the idea's just hard for
  me to accept, as a dwarf.  We hoard treasure.
Belphanior:  And you still will.  We're just hoarding it more effectively.
Mongo:  (paces about, thinking about this)  Okay.  I don't much like it,
  but I'll give it a try...but you owe me one!
Belphanior:  I owe you many.  Without your help, we wouldn't have defeated

  This wasn't technically true, as the actual slaying of the dragon (in
the second battle) had pretty much been Belphanior's work...but right now
he needed the dwarf to align with his ideas and plans.

Mongo:  So when are you going to tell the others?
Belphanior:  Just a few moments from now.  I'd like to explain it to them,
  then divide up the monetary treasure - or at least get you your share.
  I know you want to get back to your own life.
Mongo:  (nods)  I'd like to get going today, if I can.
Belphanior:  Sounds good.  We can, of course, transport you to any land
  and city you want.  Irina and a few of the others have some errands to
Mongo:  Nah, I'm going to walk out of here, and make my own way through
  the wilderness and...well, to wherever.
Belphanior:  What?
Mongo:  (shrugs)  I'm feeling the need to wander.
Belphanior:  That might not be wise.  These are dangerous lands.
Mongo:  (puts his hand on Stormcrest)  I'm not really worried.
Belphanior:  As you wish.

  In short order, the elf assembled the others, and explained his idea
about the community armory.  It was actually pretty well-received; many
of his longer-tenured companions were carrying magic items they either
didn't understand, never had reason to use, or simply _couldn't_ use.
Others saw this new paradigm for what it was:  a chance for them to more
efficiently equip themselves for any given mission, based on its unique
needs and challenges.

Arusha:  We can all optimize our inventory, given the situation.  This
  is the same way I'd handle a huge trove of magical items.  (she turns
  to Belphanior)  I approve.
Belphanior:  Uh...well, thanks for that.
Arusha:  (eyes the long shelves full of magical items, already thinking
  about the sorts of things she'll need to best arm and equip herself for
  future adventures)
Ys:  This idea certainly makes sense to me.  Surely some of the odd items
  I currently possess could be much better used by someone else.
Skektek:  (shrugs)  It's a valid point.  I can only use one wand at a time
  anyway, which means carrying three or four should cover all of the basic
  offensive needs.
Neera:  (says nothing, simply assuming that she will retain all of her
  most powerful and useful items given their unique nature, and her more
  unique skillset)

  With that discussion out of the way, most of the group got to work on
the coins, gemstones, and such - just the things that were obviously and
easily sorted and divided.  It was somewhat boring work, but also not
unpleasant (since counting money was always fun).

Belphanior:  I bet Parekh has a spell for this.
Neera:  That wouldn't surprise me at all...I'll have to ask her about it
  next time.

  As mentioned, a few of the adventurers needed to journey to the Free
City of Greyhawk for supplies and to handle other errands.  This group,
consisting of Hope, Poulos, and Irina - would travel via spell, as there
was no need to employ the Eye of Celestian for a relatively simple trip.

Irina:  Relatively meaning this is normal for wizards...
Hope:  Naturally.
Neera:  (hands her a list of things that she needs from the Guild of
  Wizardry)  Many thanks.
Hope:  No problem.  I've actually never enjoyed counting money, or doing
  tallies of treasure.
Mongo:  But what about your share of all this gold?  Don't you want to
  make sure it's right?
Hope:  (shrugs)  I trust all of you not to short me...and in any case,
  I'm not that concerned.  After all, it's just money.
Mongo:  Bah.
Belphanior:  Good thing Bosco's not here...

  In short order, the three travelers were ready to go; to teleport away,
it was necessary to venture up and out of the vault proper.  Belphanior
and Neera accompanied them.

Belphanior:  Explain this to me again?
Neera:  Before, when testing my bypassing of the dragons' protections, I
  left them inactive for a short time - which could have been a colossal
  mistake, had someone or something used magical means to venture to this
  place.  So for now, the barriers are back in place.
Hope:  Whoa, wait.  That can't be true, else we'd not be able to bring all
  of these items up as we're doing right now.
Neera:  I misspoke.  The barriers are active, but only partially...only
  in the direction where we really need them.  I restored all of those
  unique magicks that keep intruders out, but omitted the pieces that
  were in place to keep items _in_ the vault.  It is impossible to enter
  the vault by magical means.
Belphanior:  Nothing's impossible.
Neera:  I can't account for things like divine power, of course - no one
  really can - but for anyone short of a god, magic won't work.  Part of
  it seems to be due to the very rock of this mountain - it's naturally
  teleportation-proof, probably laced with minerals or something else that
  provides that effect.
Belphanior:  Hmm, maybe Judhon can help us figure that one out.
Neera:  Nevertheless, the dragon used powerful and unique magic to augment
  those natural defenses, to a degree that I've never seen or even heard
  about before.  I reverse-engineered the spell and deconstructed the
  various layers of defense, and then rebuilt them in a way that better
  suited us.
Belphanior:  (frowns)  Eventually - no, soon - I'm going to need to learn
  and understand all of this.
Neera:  I agree completely.  I'm growing weary of being the only one who
  knows how all this works.  (she frowns)  By the way, the re-working of
  the magical defenses required the use of one of the wishes from that
  ring we found amongst the treasure hoard.
Belphanior:  What?!?
Neera:  I realize that you might have preferred a different approach, but
  it was necessary.  The hoard had to be protected, and - while Mongo and
  Ys are formidable warriors - I didn't think we could properly defend it
  if the wrong foes came calling.
Belphanior:  (somewhat surprised by the initiative taken by his consort)
 I see.  And...good work.
Hope:  Look at the bright side...there are still two wishes left.
Belphanior:  Indeed there are.
Irina:  (looking around)  So basically, this place is safe from outside
  forces, unless the intruders find the actual doorway and get through it?
Neera:  Correct.  (to Belphanior)  And this is something we need to talk to properly fortify and protect the vault against physical
Belphanior:  If we stay here, and keep the hoard here.
Neera:  As I said, we need to discuss this, and make some decisions.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  Just another item on our long list of things to do
  or worry about.
Neera:  Tell me about it.  I've been building that list for weeks now.
  At least we got the top couple of items done...defeating the dragon's
  protective magicks, and finding and rescuing all of you from that other

  As they exited into the open air of the mountainside, arrangements were
made for the return of the three who were about to travel.

Hope:  I expect we'll return tomorrow.
Belphanior:  Then I think we'll seal the passage down to the vault, and
  re-arm all the traps.  At least until we figure out how to fortify this
  place, if we choose to keep using it.  (to Hope)  At midday tomorrow,
  I'll be out here waiting.
Hope:  Very well.  (to Poulos and Irina)  Gather close.  (she begins to
  cast a spell)

  A few moments later, the trio vanished, transported elsewhere by Hope's
magic; this left Belphanior and Neera standing out on the rocky ledge as
a cold wind blew across the mountainside.

Belphanior:  (surveying the vast expanse of land that stretches out below
  them)  You know...all that time we were in the other world, I couldn't
  help but think about all the things that needed to get done _here_, and
  that really motivated me to get back.  But now that I'm back, all of it
  just seems like so much.
Neera:  Understandable.
Belphanior:  (sets his jaw)  Well, we'd better get to it, then.

next:       the Greyhawk errands
released:   5/7/2021
notes:      As it turns out, I'm now aiming to end this arc (and wrap up
  as many loose ends as possible, don't worry) with episode 1075.
    After that, I've got the rough ideas for the next three story arcs,
  and as a teaser for you, I'll say that they're tentatively titled

    Escape From the Lost Island
    Killer of Giants (alternate title:  World War G)

  Hopefully, this gives you something to think about and look forward to.
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