Chapter #1100

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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!                                          +
+   ADVENTURERS AND ALLIES                                                +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+     Lyra         14th level female drow wizard                          +
+   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                           +
+   Cespedes       19th level human wizard, elementalist                  +
+     iron dwarf   insane, armored berserker                              +
+     Talos        adamantine golem                                       +
+   Dexitheseus    17th level human wizard, jack of all trades            +
+   Kronos         extremely powerful lich                                +
+     Frigaar      white dragon                                           +
+     Glacius      white dragon                                           +
+   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                    +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+                                                                         +
+   CRIMSON BLADES AND ALLIES                                             +
+                                                                         +
+   Babuk           lean, wiry monk (imprisoned in magical cage)          +
+   Chargrim        archmage (disintegrated)                              +
+     huge invisible demon (shredded)                                     +
+   Clavius         tall, skinny psionicist                               +
+   Lord Rammstein  unholy warrior (self-destructed)                      +
+     6 devout warriors of Hextor (slain)                                 +
+   Kalenon         high priest of Hextor (slain, soul taken)             +
+     water elemental (banished)                                          +
+      9 wights (slain)                                                   +
+     13 ghouls (slain)                                                   +
+     27 skeletal warriors (slain)                                        +
+   Galil-Gildur    elven wizard (slain, soul taken)                      +
+   Orgthrok        dwarven warrior (beheaded)                            +
+   Krom            hunter (hurled into the timestream)                   +
+   Snake           assassin (crushed)                                    +
+   Date:          unknown                                                +
+   Time:          unknown                                                +
+   Place:         the Center of Time, between known realities            +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "I don't care what anything was designed to do, I care about what     +
+    it _can_ do."                                                        +
+                  - Gene Kranz, from _Apollo 13_                         +

                   MC.  Tempus Subcinctus

  After a brief but complex series of battles, many of the adventurers
are incapacitated or wounded, while only a lone member of the Crimson
Blades remains a threat...

Clavius:  (gets to his feet, clutching the Key of Fate, his eyes glowing
  red)  Never!

  The casual observer would certainly have thought the man's defiance to
be pointless, for he was both outnumbered and overpowered.  Aside from
the lich Kronos (who had just hit him with a mighty blast of energy) no
fewer than five other magi now approached.

Clavius:  (eyes the foes balefully, his gaze shifting from Belphanior to
  Parekh, then to Alindyar, Lyra, and Wu)
Kronos:  There is no hope for you.  Again...yield the Key.
Clavius:  (brandishes the artifact, using what limited knowledge he has
  already been able to absorb from the thing)  I'll...destroy you all...

  The space around the psionicist warped, its very fabric rippling like
the surface of a lake after a stone had been thrown in.  The ground under
his feet rippled, moving in strange and uneven waves.  And nearby, the
chaotic vortex described by Kronos as the Center of Time trembled, ever
so slightly.

Kronos:  Cease this!  Your action may tear apart the time-stream-
Clavius:  (concentrates, focusing the power of the Key in an attempt to
  change the course of this battle)

  The Center of Time now pulsed angrily, its weird energies extending in
glowing arcs that then quickly retracted back into the body of the vortex.
Everything touched by those otherworldly tendrils - portions of the rocky
ground, dead bodies, whatever - simply...ceased to exist.  Something was
definitely happening, as the vortex was growing larger; a roaring sound
like the fury of a hurricane forced everyone to shout to be heard.

Belphanior:  (almost yelling now)  What's going on?!?
Kronos:  This idiot is using the Key, but has no idea what he's doing!  If
  we don't stop him, there is no telling what will happen!  (he holds the
  Loom of Ages up high, invoking its powers over time to try and counter
  the machinations of Clavius)  Enough!

  Both artifacts glowed now as their mighty powers were brought into play,
each one (and its user) wrestling over control of time itself...and in the
background, the maelstrom grew larger in both size and fury.

Alindyar:  (shaking his head)  This is not good.
Lyra:  Can you do anything to help?
Alindyar:  (regarding the terrible vortex)  We should leave...but I am
  unsure exactly _how_ to leave.  I already attempted to open a portal,
  without success.  Pallin might be able to assist, if he was able.

  They all had to raise their voices, and the drow realized that in the
chaos, they had forgotten to use their telepathy to speak to each other.

Lyra:  (glancing about at the angry vortex, those doing battle over its
  control, and all the dead and wounded)  Damn.
Parekh:  Well, there's one thing we can do that certainly won't hurt.
  (she works a spell, and all of their fallen allies are magically lifted
  and then gathered together, lying on unseen platforms that hover above
  the alien ground)
Irina:  (having been tending to the wounded)  What?!  (she rushes to keep
  up with them as they are quickly consolidated into one place by the
  sorceress' powerful magic)
Wu:  (nods approvingly)  Quite a useful spell.
Parekh:  I call it "Bring Out your Dead."  And now we're better prepared
  for when we do leave.  (she turns her attention back to Kronos with the
  Loom of Ages, Clavius with the Key of Fate, and the powerful unknown
  energies that pulsate and shift between those two and the Center of
  Time)  _If_ we leave.

Clavius:  (his teeth clenched, he presses his attack, and a burst of red
  energy arcs from him to Kronos)
Kronos:  Ungh!  This one is...strong!  (he redoubles his concentration,
  and the blue aura around the Loom of Ages intensifies)

  Suddenly, one of the Loom's strings just...snapped, the brief sound not
only sharp but also somewhat painful to the ears.

Kronos:  Aie!  (he is pushed back five, then ten feet by the mysterious
  forces with which he and Clavius are doing battle)  Damn!
Belphanior:  (having seen enough, he decides that he doesn't want to wait
  for something else to happen)  Fuck this.

  Although a lesser spell might have sufficed, the elf wanted to maximize
any impact he could make.  Thus, he conjured a multicolored magical spray
with numerous and varied harmful effects, counting on at least one of them
to harm or at worst distract the foe and turn the advantage firmly back to
Kronos.  The attack was even more successful than the elf could have hoped
for; it pummeled Clavius with physical and magical effects, knocking him
backward and right into the Center of Time.

Clavius:  (shrieks as his body is torn apart by the chaos within that
  vortex, and releases his hold on the Key of Fate, which then vanishes
  into the flux of raging energies as well)
Kronos:  No!
Belphanior:  What?!?
Kronos:  What was begun must be finished!  We needed the Key to bring this
  time-storm under control!
Belphanior:  Shit!  Why didn't anyone tell me?  I thought I was-
Kronos:  Quiet!  (he raises the Loom of Ages)  I will use _this_ item to
  attempt to repair things, before it is too late.
Belphanior:  What can I do to help?
Kronos:  Stand aside and let me work.
Belphanior:  (stalks away to the others)
Wu:  (helpfully)  I think you did the right thing.
Parekh:  There was no way to know what might happen.  We're treading new
  ground here today.
Belphanior:  Are we?  (to Alindyar)  You, with your mastery of illusions
  as well as reality, must know something about how all this works.  What
  the hell is happening?
Alindyar:  As best as I can tell, our foe did something that tore a rift
  in the fabric of time.  Because that was done with the key he bore, the
  fastest and easiest way to repair that damage was using the same item.
  But your friend the lich might be able to mend things using your loom.
Belphanior:  (pauses, thinking)  That...actually makes some kind of sense.
Alindyar:  Think of it as musical instruments...say, a harp and a lyre.
  Both can play the same song, but in different ways, and they will not
  sound precisely the same.
Irina:  (busy tending to Pallin's wounds now, she glances at the dark elf)
  You're equating time magic to the works of a bard?
Alindyar:  (shrugs)
Parekh:  (moves toward Kronos)  I'm going to see if I can help...maybe
  somehow bolster his-
Paige:  (wandering around, trying to walk off her cuts and bruises)  Is
  it just me, or is that time-vortex a bit smaller?
Parekh:  (regards the swirling mass of energies)  Whoa.  I think you're

  Indeed, Kronos seemed calmer now, and less frantic with his incantations
and chanting.  The blue light that limned the Loom of Ages wasn't quite
so bright, either.

Kronos:  (turns to his companions, both magi and others)  We...are safe.
  (he nods toward the vortex, which is almost back down to its original
  size and activity level from before Clavius' meddling)
Paige:  You fixed it?
Kronos:  Yes, the rip in time has been closed and sealed.  That's the good
  news.  (he nods to Belphanior)  The bad news:  your Loom is damaged,
  perhaps beyond repair.  (he presents the item, which now has multiple
  broken strings as well as a crack in its metal frame)  I am sorry.  The
  power that had to be brought to bear was too great.
Belphanior:  (sighs, closing his eyes)  Damn it.
Irina:  Better than the alternative, for sure.
Wu:  (nods silently)
Paige:  (to Kronos)  So, can we still leave this place, and get back?
Kronos:  (nods)  With the Center of Time restored, we can return at our
Paige:  Good.  Then we should do that, before anything else happens.  (to
  Belphanior)  Sorry about your harp.
Belphanior:  It's a loom.
Paige:  Sorry about your loom.  But it was worth it, to be rid of a bunch
  of enemies like those people.  I'm new here, but even I can see that.
Belphanior:  (cracks his knuckles)
Irina:  She's right.  By and large, that entire group is now off the list
  of things we have to worry about...and from what I saw of them, that's
  a good thing.
Alindyar:  (ESPing to Lyra)  We still have the monk, held prisoner in
  stasis.  He will surely be useful at some point.
Lyra:  (ESPing to Alindyar)  Probably.  And the rest are all dead, in one
  way or another.
Kronos:  (eyeing the two dark elves, his enhanced senses aware that they
  are communicating privately but unable to discern the content of that
Belphanior:  (putting aside his thoughts and concerns about losing the
  Loom's ability to peer into the past, he sighs, looking around at the
  weird landscape of this place)  Okay.  If everyone's in agreement, I say
  we get the hell out of here.
Irina:  I'll second that.  We have too many wounded, and I can't properly
  tend to them here.  (she eyes the pair of white dragons doubtfully)
Parekh:  (surveys the various members of the group who float in place
  thanks to her spell)  Agreed.
Kronos:  Gather everyone close, and I will work the magic to return us to
  Oerth.  (he begins preparing that spell)
Otto:  (having just finished plundering whatever he could from defeated
  foes, he smirks)

  Even without the rapid healing afforded by the ring he wore, the dwarf
would have gone about this business - wounds and pain notwithstanding.
There was no telling what powers the Crimson Blades' weapons and other
items possessed, or whether the wizards would now stake a claim to a share
of this loot, but one thing was for sure:  leaving those things here would
benefit no one.

Otto:  (his work now done, he rests, awaiting whatever comes next)
Razor Charlie:  (having recovered his best knife from the smear of paste
  that used to be the assassin Snake, he examines its dulled edge, already
  thinking about how to re-sharpen it)

  In short order, Kronos had conjured a mystical archway between worlds
(or, for its part, whatever this place actually was) and the group took
a last look around before stepping through the portal back to Oerth.

Razor Charlie:  (casually notices how the portal expands to fit the
  gigantic, floating forms of the wounded white dragons, then contracts
  after they pass through)  Hrrm.  (he grimaces to himself)

  As before, this journey was a whirlwind of sounds and colors, through
which they floated, witnessing fragments of events from other places,
other worlds.  The trip did seem to happen faster this time, though, and
eventually they emerged from the space between realities and once again
set foot on the cold stone of Kronos' remote mountain home.

Kronos:  (frowns)  That is...odd.
Belphanior:  What?  What's odd?
Kronos:  Could it...(he strides away without a word, waving his hand to
  open a doorway into his castle)
Paige:  Well, I guess we'll just follow him.  (she frowns)  Although it
  damn sure won't be much warmer inside.

  Parekh "brought" the wounded indoors, directing the unseen platforms
to float through the opening in the stone wall.  Silent undead minions
appeared and took the dragons elsewhere, and then the doorway closed as
abruptly as it had appeared.  While the wounded were tended to, those
wizards still able trailed Belphanior as he followed Kronos deeper into
the castle.  They caught up with the lich in a large domed chamber, the
center of which contained a large floating stone globe.  Perhaps ten feet
across, this object hovered above the floor of the room; on its face were
representations of the continents of Oerth.  Given that the overwhelming
majority of the group had never been beyond the continent of Oerik, nor
even seen maps of the rest of the world, the globe was fascinating just
to behold...but Kronos was moving his arms, causing the sphere to rotate.
Some points on it were highlighted in red, while others were connected
by intangible blue and green lines.

Wu:  Fascinating.
Parekh: this?
Kronos:  (nonchalantly)  It is the secret map of the world.  (he deftly
  manipulates the globe, causing it to rotate until the side facing the
  group shows a more familiar mass of land)  Hmm.
Belphanior:  That's Oerik...the Flanaess.
Alindyar:  Aye.  (he idly wonders if this globe can depict the regions
  beneath the world's surface, as well)
Lyra:  Those dark patches scattered across the land...what do those
Kronos:  Very astute.  Those represent concentrations of evil power - and
  they were most definitely not there before.  (he studies the floating
  sphere, causing it to rotate slightly as he scrutinizes various regions)
  That can't be.  (he blinks)  Unless...

  The lich gestured some more, causing some of the lines and fixed points
on the globe to change color, or vanish temporarily only to reappear after
some other manipulation.  After several moments of this, he simply stood
there, pale arms crossed.

Kronos:  That explains it.  (he turns to the others)  We may have a slight
Belphanior:  (more than a little exasperated, after the many months away
  followed by the rapid journey to the Center of Time, the battle with the
  Crimson Blades, and the possible loss of the Loom of Fate)  What now?
Kronos:  Our journey and battle were less than a single day for us...but
  here on Oerth, a longer time passed.  A much longer time.
Parekh:  How long?
Kronos:  (pauses)  Almost five years.
Alindyar:  Aie.
Lyra:  Crap.
Wu:  (shakes his head sadly)
Belphanior:  Gods damn it.
Parekh:  Well...the list of things I need to worry about just got an awful
  lot longer.
Kronos:  There's more, I'm afraid.  The world has not been quiet while we
  were away.  (he gestures to the floating globe)  From what I can tell,
  the Flanaess has been embroiled in all-out war for the past two years.
  Kingdoms have fallen...old rulers have been overthrown or perished, and
  new ones have risen...the dead freely roam some regions, while others
  are menaced by fiends and worse.  (he stares at the hovering sphere, his
  expression unreadable)  The very boundaries of the Flanaess have changed

next:       (see below)
released:   11/4/2021
notes:      And here we are.  I've merged two things I never thought I'd
  actually reach in my writing:  the 30 year mark, and dealing with the
  Greyhawk Wars.  (The fact that the episode number was a multiple of 100
  is more of a coincidence than the result of any planning.)

    I always knew that I'd have to address the Greyhawk Wars at some point
  in my writing - whether to use them as written/canon, or to ignore them
  entirely, or maybe some hybrid approach.  Different DMs and writers have
  done all three.  In fact, there are a number of diverging timelines and
  such out there; some came from TSR, others are home-brewed campaigns.  I
  could even go my own way entirely.  There is a wealth of possibilities
  here, and a number of possible paths for the Adventurers to tread next.

    However, it will be a while before I choose one (or more, if I merge
  multiple ideas).  I've had the dial on my life cranked up to 110% for
  all of 2020 and 2021; as if 85 new stories in a year and a half wasn't
  enough, I've also dealt with all of the following since the pandemic
  began, in roughly this order:
    - great new relationship, which led to cohabitation and then marriage
    - death of a brother after a long illness
    - new executive/leader at work, which roughly tripled my work stress
    - emergency surgery to remove a gall bladder that was killing me
    - a sudden and rapid uprooting of our living situation due to insane
      landlord randomly deciding to sell his house within the month
    - moving everything we own into a 10x10 storage unit, by myself, in
      thirteen days, using only my car
    - building of a new house, which we lost eight months later through no
      fault of our own
    - purchasing another house, and planning to close and move within weeks
      of me typing this (late September 2021)

    So after producing over a story a week all this time, amidst all the
  chaos above...I need a damn break.  If I had to guess, it will probably
  be a few months.  Moving and setting up won't be easy or quick.  When I
  pick up with episode 1101, Belphanior will begin the long and interesting
  process of confirming and then acting on what he heard from Kronos at the
  end of this episode.  I imagine that will involve checking in with all of
  his past and present adventuring companions who weren't along for this
  mission, to see how the Greyhawk Wars affected them and their various
  interests.  I also have a secondary goal that needs to be met before I
  write again, and that's a major updating of the website
  content.  A number of areas (particularly those pertaining to Adventurer
  stats and NPC biographies) are far from current, and I need to get those
  fixed before I produce any new material.

    Well, that's it in a nutshell.  It's been a good two years for writing
  and I'm glad I was able to get things going again after the long hiatus
  of mid-2017 through early 2020.  In retrospect, it seems fairly amazing.
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