Chapter #1093

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic VI     +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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                               +
+   Irina          14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+     Arusha        5th level human female wizard/alchemist               +
+     Judhon        7th level gnomish illusionist                         +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Paige          13th level human female warrior                        +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/17/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          evening                                                +
+   Place:         a vault within the northeastern Yatil Mountains        +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "You're a weird guy.  This is what you do for a living?  You're       +
+    like a keep moving forward, you never stop, you're in    +
+    it for the moment and then you're out again.  I gotta tell you,      +
+    it's a little hard to follow."                                       +
+   "I didn't plan it that way."                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                  - from _Stingray_ (1986-1987) episode _Orange Blossom_ +

                   MXCIII.  Finding Purpose

  After spending two weeks making the underground vault more habitable -
including dealing with various aspects of the vast magical hoard stored
there, and making sure some of the wizards had enough wands - Belphanior
is relaxing in his new bedchamber, along with his consort Neera.

Neera:  This is a first...sleeping on the bed of a dragon.
Belphanior:  I have to admit, it's clean, and smells doubt a
  side-effect of the cleaning enchantments this place has.  For a dragon,
  Mesoloth was...odd.  We already know about its collector mentality, and
  compulsion to hoard magical things, but it also seems that the creature
  almost preferred to remain in human form most of the time.
Neera:  Who knows what strange and unique thoughts drove it?  The wyrm was
  well over a thousand years old, possibly closer to two thousand, and it
  undoubtedly witnessed things and events that most people will never even
  dream about.  (she frowns)  Plus it had two heads, which likely led to
  untold arguments, debates, bickering, and so on.  It wouldn't be a shock
  if such a creature was actually insane.
Belphanior:  Hmm.
Neera:  What's on your mind?
Belphanior:  Just the same old thing...I'm trying to put the pieces of the
  puzzle together, and solve it once and for all.
Neera:  What puzzle?
Belphanior:  The same one I've been pondering for a while now.  After all
  these adventures, I've acquired some unique artifacts...and it really
  seems that they should work together toward a common end.  Think about
  it:  we've got the Seeking Scroll, which can find anyone or anything...
  the Eye of Celestian, which can take us anywhere...the Loom of Ages,
  which can theoretically uncover the history of any being, object, or
  place...the finger of Boccob, which can discern the powers and effects
  of just about any magic item...that mirror, which lets us observe other
  people or creatures once we locate them, which we can thanks to the
  scroll.  (he rubs his chin thoughtfully)  And all of those aren't even
  weapons, nor do they have any direct use in battle.  They're the tools
  of thinkers, not warriors.  For combat, we have a whole other array of
  items to use.
Neera:  What's your point?
Belphanior:  For a long time, we - like everyone else who goes on quests
  and explores dungeons and such - were satisfied with asking ourselves
  what we could do with what we had.  Then we took a giant leap forward
  when we started asking ourselves what we lacked...what we NEEDED.  And
  now we have just about everything we could possibly need.  It's time to
  work on actually making things better, and proactively dealing with any
  impediments to that end.

  Neera could only listen and try to absorb these ideas.  Ever since she
met Belphanior, she had known that he wasn't like other elves, content to
live a quiet and thoughtful life.  Belphanior sought out power, and was
willing to take all the risks necessary to gain it.  He'd also had the
foresight to surround himself with capable and loyal companions to assist
him in these pursuits, which had certainly helped over the years.  And of
course, he had the right combination of skills to succeed where most others
would have failed and perished many times over.  However, the ambition and
skills and helpers - while a potent combination - weren't always enough;
this was where another element had factored heavily into the elf's long
history of success:  luck.  In addition to everything else, the elf had
been in the right place at the right time more than once, and had reaped
huge rewards as a result.  Each win, each success, each discovery had then
enabled him to take another step forward...and over the years, he'd built
a power base that was most likely second to none.

Belphanior:  (musing to himself)  Of course, there are some things we most
  definitely _don't_ need, or want, despite their potential.
Neera:  Like all those cursed items we destroyed?
Belphanior:  Those, and more like them that are best left alone.  Perhaps
  that immense, evil black ruby that I loaned to Nenya, some time ago.  Or
  some of the other powerful things we've found in Xusia's various lairs.
  (he frowns)  And then there are also the more mundane evils, like the
  sample of zombie flesh I brought back in a sealed vial, from that other
Neera:  (sits up)  You did _what_?!?
Belphanior:  We'd never encountered such undead before, ones that infect
  anyone they bite.  That seemed perhaps worth looking into.
Neera:  And insanely dangerous!
Belphanior:  What can I say?  Old habits die hard.  But don't worry, I'm
  not insane.  After thinking about it, I realized that if things went
  wrong, we could have a worldwide zombie epidemic on our hands.  So I've
  destroyed the vial...and I even used a disintegration spell, to avoid
  fumes and such.  (he locks gazes with her)  The risk simply wasn't worth
  the reward.
Neera:  Whew.  I'm glad you realized that.
Belphanior:  Another thing I've been thinking about, we should resume your
  combat training, from many months ago.
Neera:  With the dagger?
Belphanior:  Yep.  You did well, but those sorts of skills must be built
  and maintained through regular practice.  I'd suggest just a short round
  of sparring each day...think of it as exercise.  And as a backup plan if
  you ever find yourself in a situation where magic doesn't work.
Neera:  It will take time away from my studies and such, but I can do it.
Belphanior:  You have helpers now - delegate some tasks to them.
Neera:  I already have.  I instructed Arusha to use that brass scroll case
  each week, since it writes a random wizard spell to any blank scroll put
  inside.  Part of her job is to then review each new spell and attempt to
  understand its formula.  This will help her learn how to use magic the
  right way...not that there's anything wrong with her way, and it's quite
  amazing that she got as far as she did without any formal training, or a
  spellbook.  But her old methods would have eventually limited her, and
  I'm teaching her to remove those limits.
Belphanior:  Sounds good.
Neera:  As for Judhon, he's mainly been focused on the excavations, as you
  know, but I think he'll prove useful for a variety of tasks.  Maybe not
  combat tasks, but various other things that are equally important.  And
  I've provided both of them spellbooks - fortunately, our departed dragon
  friend had several empty ones stored here in the vault-
Belphanior:  Armory.
Neera:  Eh?
Belphanior:  I'm calling it an armory from now on.  When it belonged to
  Mesoloth, it may have been a vault; now that it belongs to us, it's an
  armory.  _Our_ armory.
Neera:  I see.
Belphanior:  Anyhow, that's good to hear about those two.  Nothing against
  those who adventured with me in the past, but I really like the team
  we've got now, and I feel good about them.
Neera:  Agreed.
Belphanior:  And my intention is to not always take everyone on missions,
  but instead to bring just who we need, equipped with any extra items
  they might need, thanks to the armory.  You, and Arusha and Judhon, will
  typically remain here, or wherever we end up calling home.
Neera:  Do you think the new people - and by that I mean Paige and Poulos
  too - will want to stay with us?
Belphanior:  How do you mean?
Neera:  It's just that, given the various powerful items we now possess,
  it seems possible that we might be able to take one or more of them back
  to their home worlds.
Belphanior:  I've considered this, and I've talked privately to each of
  them, over the last couple of weeks.  Poulos isn't going anywhere, his
  loyalty and fealty to Hope seems rock-solid.  Paige didn't seem to care
  and wasn't worried about it; I get the impression that she doesn't have
  any roots or ties to any one place.  Judhon actually prefers to be here,
  instead of his old world - he said there was nothing for him there.  As
  for Arusha, she more or less felt the same, and mentioned that her sole
  purpose in life had been to see Marek slain.  With that done, and with
  no family left in Holmburg, she has no reason to stay there.  And she
  also realizes that in her case, even attempting to travel back there
  could have disastrous consequences for her and us.
Neera:  So they're all set?
Belphanior:  They are, at least for the foreseeable future.  There may be
  a few more allies to find, though...(he trails off)
Neera:  What?
Belphanior:  Nothing.  I haven't put it all together yet.  But we do need
  to talk about that crown you found, and have been using.
Neera:  The Crown of Zagyg?  It's little more than a circlet-
Belphanior:  That boosts your intellect and thus your spellcasting prowess
  by a massive degree.  (he catches the worried look on her face)  Don't
  worry, I'm not going to say you shouldn't have it...
Neera:  Oh.
Belphanior:  ...just that you shouldn't use it too often, or for too long.
  I've been advised about the way it fatigues you.  Having the item, and
  its immense power, should mean more free time for you - NOT to push even
  harder with research and such.
Neera:  I used it to aid in the search for a way to find your group and
  bring you home, nothing more.
Belphanior:  Understood, and I thank you yet again for that.  Please just
  remember to be careful in your use of the crown - that's all I'm saying.
Neera:  Understood.
Belphanior:  Back to your combat have both defensive and
  offensive tools.
Neera:  Yes, I've still got my cloak, my brooch, and the ring that turns
  away many spells.  And for attacks, my fast magic missile spell, plus
  the small, close-range arcs of flame or cold.  I perfected the variant
  for lightning, as well, and may explore other types of energies in the
Belphanior:  Good.  I know you likely won't see much battle, but if you
  do, it will pay to be prepared and capable.
Neera:  Damn right.  Oh, I forgot to tell you, but I also came up with a
  spell to divide monetary treasure.  It's little more than a cantrip, to
  be honest...but it will sort a big pile of coins into multiple smaller
  ones, nice and neat and fairly-divided.
Belphanior:  (considers this)  Hmm.  Parekh taught you well.
Neera:  She definitely has a unique approach to magic, that's for sure.
Belphanior:  Indeed.
Neera:  So you mentioned paying a visit to Kronos...?
Belphanior:  I'll do that tomorrow.  Before the whole escapade with the
  purple dragon, Kronos had mentioned that something valuable of his had
  been taken during his centuries-long slumber, and he thought it might
  be in the hoard.
Neera:  And was it?
Belphanior:  It was, and so I'm going to bring it to him, as thanks for
  helping guide us toward Mesoloth in the first place.  I'll do that in
  the morning, and then we'll look into some of the long-term loose ends
  that need tying up.

next:       Kronos revisited
released:   9/24/2021
notes:      So this is the second in a mini-arc of episodes that will try
  and wrap up various dangling plot threads.  Last time, they dealt with
  expanding the vault/armory, getting rid of cursed items, and assigning
  the necessary non-cursed items to the right people.  And this time, the
  topics addressed included Belphanior's greater purpose, Neera's small
  but budding team, her combat abilities and spell research, her possible
  over-use of her new crown, and the motivations of the four new party
  members.  The next episode will, obviously, cover Kronos (both the item
  he wanted back, and probably some general conversations).  After that,
  we'll see.  I have a very long list of loose ends.

    In other news, I offer two real-life comparisons.  First, as a former
  manager of a high-performing technical team, I can attest to the great
  feeling of satisfaction that comes from intentionally hiring the best
  people you can (both skill-wise and cultural-fit-wise) and then seeing
  them work together to become even better, help train the newer people,
  and so on.  Building that particular team is probably my biggest single
  career accomplishment.  I feel that Belphanior is in a similar place.
    Second, I'd posit that Neera wearing/using the Crown of Zagyg (or,
  really, anyone using things like potions of speed, or Haste spells) is
  a lot like chugging energy drinks here in real life.  It really powers
  you up right then, but can go bad if you do it too much - and generally
  just isn't good for you long-term.  As a reformed energy drink drinker,
  I look back on that time and am thankful I didn't have a heart attack.
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