Chapter #1095

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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'S TEAM                                                     +
+                                                                         +
+   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          +
+   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                           +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   OTHER ALLIES                                                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra         14th level female drow wizard                          +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+     iron dwarf   insane, armored berserker                              +
+   Dexitheseus    17th level human wizard, jack of all trades            +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+     Drak         15th level human barbarian                             +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates     large albino hound                                     +
+   Wu             18th level human wizard, transmuter                    +
+   Date:          7/19/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         the Black Crown, within the Corusk Mountains           +
+   Climate:       extremely cold                                         +
+   "People with this kind of firepower do not make mistakes about who    +
+    they visit."                                                         +
+                                             - from _The Transporter_    +

                   MXCV.  An Awesome Assemblage

  As he looked around at the gathered adventurers, wizards, and other
individuals, Belphanior couldn't help but realize that this was one of
the most powerful groups with which he'd ever been involved.  In addition
to his own team - less those who lacked combat experience or capability,
which meant Neera, Arusha, and Judhon - the entirety of the Cabal was
also present, along with their various associates or minions.  Presiding
over all was the organizer of this effort:  the lich Kronos.

Kronos:  (standing barefoot on the cold stone shelf of the open courtyard,
  he ignores the cold wind that whips at his robed form)

  They had gathered at the lich's base of operations because, according
to their host, that would make the journey easier.  The fortress, cut from
the very rock at the top of the mountain, consisted of dozens of towers
and walls of dark stone, thus the term "the Black Crown."  Due to the
odd angles and its construction, anyone below would have no idea of the
fortress' existence far above; it was only truly visible from the sky.
Due to its remote location, and the guardians employed by Kronos, there
was scant chance of anyone stumbling upon it.
  Aside from falling into one of roughly two groups, all of those present
could be categorized another way:  those who commanded powerful magic and
had some experience with issues of this magnitude, and those who were here
for their skill at arms.  The latter group included the vast majority of
Belphanior's team, as well as Parekh's consort Drak, the huge pale hound
called Socrates, and the immense adamant golem Talos.

Paige:  (stares up at the thirty-foot-tall construct)
Lyra:  We once fought that thing, if you can believe it...a decade ago.
Paige:  Really?  How'd that turn out?
Lyra:  We lost.  It took a distraction and a hasty retreat to get away.
  Honestly, we were lucky the thing didn't follow us.
Skektek:  (eyeing a large, opaque gray bubble of force which floats above
  the stone floor nearby)  And then there's...that.

  Someone had overheard that this magical sphere contained none other than
the mighty warrior known as the iron dwarf.  That powerful but insane foe
had previously fallen under the thrall of the wizard Cespedes, and was now
here to bolster the party's theory.

Hope:  I heard one of the others talking about it.  Apparently the bubble
  contains some sort of vapor that calms its prisoner, as well as blocking
  all light and sound.  Until the magic of the sphere is disabled, the one
  within is at total peace.
Skektek:  (frowns)  I seriously doubt that.
Lyra:  His fury will be useful in the coming battle...provided it can be
Paige:  (wondering just how tough a single insane, armored warrior could
  possibly be)  Hmm.
Otto:  That's not the only old enemy here.  (he nods toward some of the
  others)  See that wizard with the robe of red stars and metal skull-cap?
  The one who brought the iron dwarf here in that enchanted bubble?  Well,
  he was one of the lich Xusia's buddies in their fortress...a fortress
  that we attacked while teamed up with some of these others, actually.
Alindyar:  And now he is an ally.  'Tis a strange world indeed.
Lyra:  To be fair, from what I know of him, Cespedes isn't really evil
  like the rest of that bunch.  He craves knowledge and power, and thus
  he joined them for a time.  When the battle got serious, he simply left
  to pursue other endeavors.
Alindyar:  Endeavors which have now grouped him with all of these other
  powerful wizards.
Paige:  Well, I'll come out and say it:  this is pretty damn confusing.
  We need signs with peoples' names on them, or something.
Otto:  That's actually not a bad idea-
Hope:  Hold up, I think there's about to be a speech.

  Indeed, Kronos looked around before speaking up in a clear, strong tone
of voice that none had trouble hearing.

Kronos:  I shall not waste time explaining what we need to do, as all of
  you have undoubtedly been told by now.  I will instead focus on _how_ we
  need to do it.  There are some who intend to meddle in time itself, and
  possess the means to do so.  To stop them, we will venture to their
  destination before they do, and await them there.  Whatever may happen
  after that, they must not be allowed to proceed.
Parekh:  What do we know of these foes?
Kronos:  One among our number has some past experience with them, and is
  best suited to share that knowledge.  (he nods to Belphanior)
Belphanior:  (steps forward, then turns to address the gathered group)

  As the elf spoke, mystical images appeared in the air above him, via the
use of a novel enchantment that Parekh had recently come up with; it took
images from the subject's memory and made them visible to all.

Belphanior:  (gestures to the floating image of a shaven-headed wizard in
  deep purple robes)  This is Chargrim, an archmage who's as efficient as
  he is powerful.  When in doubt, he'll blast everyone - but he also had
  an invisible demon servant of some sort last time.  He's at least the
  equal of some of those here today.
Pallin:  (smirks quietly)
Belphanior:  This fellow is a high priest of Hextor.  (he eyes the image,
  which shifts to show an angry-looking man in black robes)  He's known
  as Kalenon, and his aim in life is simply to gain converts to his grim
  god, by whatever means necessary.  He once slew an entire village that
  wouldn't immediately bow to him, and Hextor.  He has been known to use
  odd spells, such as one that rained green acid and opened great cracks
  in the ground.  (he pauses as the image changes again, now depicting a
  gigantic warrior clad in jet-black plate mail and a great horned helm)
  This one works closely with Kalenon...his name is Lord Rammstein, and
  he's a veteran of a thousand battles, and has the strength of ten men.
  In addition to following Hextor and bringing war and violence everywhere
  he goes, he's been known to lead a band of equally fanatical warriors.
Wu:  So only one wizard?
Belphanior:  Technically, yes, but let me finish.  All of these people are
  quite dangerous in their own right.
Wu:  (deep in thought, he nods quietly)  So sorry.
Belphanior:  (points to the latest form of the image, which now portrays
  a short, stout dwarf with a sharp battleaxe and a crazed appearance amid
  his wild red hair and beard)  This one's particularly resilient.  He
  possesses augmented strength and stamina, fights like a berserker, and
  he heals quick too.
Drak:  (hefts his hammer, eager to face such a challenge)
Belphanior:  And then there's this guy.  (he stares at the shadowy image
  overhead)  He's an assassin, perhaps without peer.
Ys:  (scratches his back)  I still remember that backstab.
Razor Charlie:  I tagged him with a knife right after that, so he can be
Belphanior:  Based on the wounds we inflicted on him last time, which
  should have been fatal, he must have some kind of resistance or healing
  in play.  Don't count him out just because he's down.  (he pauses as the
  magical image shifts yet again, depicting a green-eyed elf in fine gray
  robes)  This one's old and has much experience, and worse, his spells
  seem to get cast a bit faster and easier than they should.  He likes to
  stay airborne, and he used a giant purple claw which was otherwise much
  the same as a Bigby's hand spell.
Parekh:  (to no one in particular)  He also successfully cast a spell of
  feeblemindedness on me, which is not an easy thing to do.
Belphanior:  And here's the last of the ones we met before.  (he nods at
  the new image overhead, which shows a huge, hairy, wild-looking man)
  This is basically a ranger gone bad.  We think he can track and kill
  just about anything that roams the world, and you can probably see why.
  He's strong, he's fast, and he's tough.  He likes to make big jumps as
  he attacks, too.
Dexitheseus:  This is excellent research, my boy.  You have given us some
  measure of those we may soon face, and we will all benefit from it.
Belphanior:  (sighs)  I only wish that was everyone.  (he raises his voice
  slightly, addressing the group again)  There are a couple more of these
  bastards, who weren't there the last time.  I don't know what they look
  like, but I may know what they can do.  First, we have some sort of evil
  monk, probably associated with the Scarlet Brotherhood.  I honestly don't
  have much experience facing such, but it seems they use little or nothing
  in the way of weapons and armor...yet are extremely dangerous in battle.
  I'd suggest that this one is even more deadly, and should not be taken
Razor Charlie:  (silently wonders if any monk, no matter how skilled, can
  evade a flurry of thrown knives)
Belphanior:  And second, they may have a member who's mastered what are
  known as psionics...powers of the mind.  That could be telepathy, ESP,
  telekinesis, or much worse.  If anyone encounters such an opponent, I'd
  recommend treating him or her with the utmost respect.  (he smirks)  In
  other words, kill them quickly.
Kronos:  (moves back up in front of everyone)  As friend Dexitheseus said,
  an excellent briefing, and one which we can surely put to good use.  (to
  the assembled group)  My plan is simple:  using Belphanior's Loom of
  Ages in conjunction with my unique time magic, we will venture to the
  Center of Time.  There, we will await the arrival of the Crimson Blades.
Alindyar:  I have a question.
Kronos:  Surely.
Alindyar:  Why hold this battle in an extradimensional - or perhaps the
  correct term is extrachronal - location?  Why not simply deal with them
  here and now, on Oerth?
Kronos:  A fair question, and the answer is threefold.  First, if we were
  to confront them in their lair, on this world, they would be at their
  full strength, with all allies and servants.  Second, I know particulars
  about the time stream, and the Center of Time, that they do not, thus
  giving us the advantage there.  Third, after we win the Key of Fate from
  them, we need to destroy it - which can only happen at the Center of
  Time.  Trust me, I once tried to accomplish that in the Prime Material
  but was unsuccessful...which brings us to the current problem.
Alindyar:  (nods)
Parekh:  Another question.  Once we go there and lie in wait, how do we
  know that they will arrive anytime soon?  What if it takes them a week,
  or longer, to decide to venture there?
Kronos:  It will be soon - a day or less.  I have been monitoring their
  use of the key...Chargrim's divinations and forays.  Such an item cannot
  be used - even experimentally - without causing ripples in the fabric of
  time...ripples which I know how to detect.  Chargrim has been busy...the
  man is rather relentless, and keeps probing into the timestream.  Based
  on his efforts and his progress in the last week, I have concluded that
  his own journey will happen very soon now - within a day, to be sure.
Cespedes:  (speaks up, his voice surprisingly high-pitched yet loud)  Why
  not wait until they arrive there?  Why must we be in place first?
Kronos:  When fighting amidst time itself, and using powerful artifacts
  keyed to time and time travel...those who get there first hold, for lack
  of a better term, the high ground with respect to the timestream.
Cespedes:  (frowns, not at all happy with this diversion from his current
Lyra:  Another question, regarding your accounting of interference in the
  timestream and its effects...with so many potential forks, and alternate
  realities created from them, how will we know which reality is our own,
  for purposes of returning once the battle is done?  Can the Loom of Ages
  keep us on track?
Kronos:  (nods)  It has that power, as does the Key of Fate.  I also have
  a spell that will do the same thing, just in case.  So at a minimum, the
  group will have two viable options to return after the battle.
Lyra:  Good to know.
Kronos:  The one thing we must not do is venture into one of the alternate
  realities, and then return to the "real" one...that sort of activity is
  exactly what I worry about Chargrim and the others doing.  Crossing back
  and forth between realities bears the risk of merging them...or worse,
  collapsing them entirely.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  I an no chronomancer, or expert in time and
  time magic...but fundamentally, what he is saying makes sense.  When
  dealing with an infinite number of branches, a tree can only bear so
  many before breaking.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  This all sounds mysterious, yet dangerous.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  'Tis a unique adventure, to be sure.
Kronos:  (now addressing everyone once more)  I know that the sudden and
  urgent nature of this undertaking is alarming.  Believe me when I say
  that I, too, am alarmed.  With my age and experience, it takes a lot to
  unsettle me - but meddling in the timestream, and potential damage from
  that meddling - is more than enough to get my attention.  The choice is
  simple:  we can stop Chargrim and the Crimson Blades, or they may well
  wreak havoc in the past, and thus in the present.  This is a threat like
  no other, and we must stack our deck as much as possible to ensure that
  we win.  (he looks over the group)  And this is indeed a stacked deck.
Belphanior:  No doubt.  My only concern is that you can get us safely home
  once the fighting is over.
Kronos:  I can.  Worry about the battle itself, not the mechanics of our
Parekh:  (frowns, not fully convinced, but remains quiet, confident in
  the abilities of the group to protect them in the upcoming conflict)
Kronos:  Unless there are other questions, I must prepare to open a gate
  in time itself, to inject us into its flow.  It will take a short while,
  so if there are any final preparations anyone needs to make, now is the

next:       into the time stream
released:   10/8/2021
notes:      As I said in the last episode, I really need to be careful
  here.  Time travel is a dangerous and touchy thing to write about or
  use, which is why I've avoided it for so long.
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