Chapter #730

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                                   +   +
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                             +               +
                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2001 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!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Jutokai        8th level human archer                               +
+     Otto           8th/11th level dwarven fighter/thief                 +
+     Razor Charlie  9th level human fighter                              +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Ys            13th level reptilian fighter                          +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman                            +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+                                                                         +
+   Boltar          high priest of Pholtus                                +
+   Drak            barbarian warrior                                     +
+   Parekh          dark-skinned female wizard                            +
+                                                                         +
+   Neera           female human sage/astrologer                          +
+                                                                         +
+   allies summoned by Belphanior:                                        +
+     ghoul                                                               +
+   Date:           the week between 3/579 and 4/579 C.Y. (Common Year)   +
+   Time:           indeterminate                                         +
+   Place:          a cavern within an isle amidst the Solnor Ocean       +
+   Climate:        mild                                                  +
+   "No one's ever done anything like this."                              +
+   "That's why it's going to work."                - from _The Matrix_   +

                     DCCXXX.  Two Down, One To Go

  Facing three mysterious bars sealing an equally mysterious door, the
adventurers have managed to bypass two of them - one by incredible
amounts of brute force, another by the most powerful magic.  The third
and last bar, however, has proven immune to these methods, requiring a
new approach...

Belphanior:  But what?!?  What the hell can it be?
Mongo:  Damn thing don't budge.
Parekh:  And magic has proven ineffective as well.
Belphanior:  (examining the remaining bar and the door closely)
Otto:  What're you about?
Belphanior:  No traps...the door itself is highly magical, as is the
  bar, but I can't detect anything inherently dangerous about either.
  (to Neera)  Okay, you wanted time to examine this portal.  Time,
  we've got.  (to the others)  Everyone, take a break.
Neera:  (moves closer, examining the bar)  Maybe it's a riddle, or a
Bosco:  I'm pretty swift with riddles, myself.
Neera:  (ignoring the halfling, she retrieves her tracings from the
  other room, as well as some blank paper, a piece of coal, and a
  quill)  Time to get to work.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Neera:  This is very probably the greatest challenge I've ever taken
Belphanior:  It's definitely one worthy of legend.
Neera:  Only if we succeed.

  While the sage went to work on the portal's runes, Belphanior put
the others to work.  Those with the skills to find secret panels and
similar things were assigned the task of checking every wall in this
chamber.  Bosco, who could fly, got to work on the ceiling and higher
sections of wall.  Jutokai, Zhao, Ys, and Razor Charlie simply guarded
the approach passage.
  Parekh worked a spell to try and help decipher some of the markings
that Neera was working on, while Boltar communed with Pholtus for aid.
For those not involved in the portal's opening, this was a boring time
that couldn't end soon enough...

Gorgo:  (stomping about restlessly)
Mongo:  Settle down.
Gorgo:  I can't.  We're too close, and something needs to _happen_.
Mongo:  I'm sure it will.  If anyone can crack this place's secrets,
  it's this crew.

  Moments became minutes, and those then stretched out into hours.
Neera didn't rest, didn't take any breaks; she was completely focused
on her work, as she had to be.  Boltar's divinations weren't of any
use to her, but Parekh seemed to have learned something, and she was
working with Neera, quietly and intently.
  This was the hardest, most trying part of the quest so far - both
for the two women who were doing all the work, and for the others, who
had little or nothing to do.  There were no secret panels or hidden
features to be exploited here.

Otto:  Damned if this door isn't the last resort...the only way to
  proceed, I mean.
Belphanior:  We'll see.
Bosco:  (flying around above)
Otto:  You know, he kind of reminds me of a wasp.
Belphanior:  Perhaps.  Even wasps have their uses.

  Judging by the level of fatigue that was setting in, it must have
been dusk or nighttime on the outside.  Belphanior and Mongo had a
brief talk before deciding to make camp for the night.

Drak:  What about Parekh?
Belphanior:  She can sleep, or she can keep at it - her choice, I
Drak:  (to Parekh)  How's it coming?
Parekh:  We're really busy right now...please stay away.
Neera:  (squinting, she rubs her eyes)  Getting hard to see...
Boltar:  I can fix that.  (he conjures up some more light, bathing
  the runes in a healthy glow)
Neera:  Ooo, thanks.
Parekh:  We're getting tired...weary.  Can't allow that.
Neera:  (frowns)
Parekh:  (finds a small potion bottle, pouring half of it into a
  tiny silver cup that appears in her hand, giving this to Neera)
Neera:  What's this?
Parekh:  A potion that negates the need for sleep and food.  Drink
Neera:  (shrugs, then downs the magical liquid)  Mmm.
Parekh:  (finishes the rest of the potion)  Aaah.  (she discards the
  bottle)  Now where were we?

  Thus it was that the party camped and slept - except for a rotating
shift of two guards at all times - while two of its number worked
tirelessly throughout the night.  In fact, it was somewhat amazing to
most of them to wake up and find Neera and Parekh right where they'd
been at bedtime.

Mongo:  (shaking his head)  Wow.
Drak:  You can say that again.
Bosco:  Wow.
Gorgo:  I wonder if they figured anything out?
Belphanior:  When they have, we'll know.  Until then, we leave them

  A breakfast of sorts was made, and it was while they were eating that
the bulk of the party was surprised by a loud outburst from Neera...

Neera:  Eureka!
Belphanior:  (over by the portal a lot faster than anyone would have
  though)  What?  What is it?
Parekh:  Neera was right...what she said before.  The runes speak of
  three seals, each broken in a different fashion.
Belphanior:  One by magic...
Mongo:  Another by strength...
Boltar:  And the third?
Neera:  (proudly)  The third is nothing more than a cipher, based on the
  Panagaeans' numbering system.
Drak:  How's that?
Parekh:  It's based on the number seven, rather than ten like what we're
  used to.
Mongo:  What does that mean?
Parekh:  Every digit in a number we use ranges from one to nine, after
  which you've got ten, so the next digit over counts the number of tens,
  the third digit the number of tens times tens, and so on.
Mongo:  Uh...okay.
Neera:  The Panagaeans, apparently, used a base of seven in all of their
  numberings.  After six, the second digit would be one, and the first
  digit would reset to zero...and then could range up to six again.
Gorgo:  So they skipped from seven to ten?  What if they had eight of
Parekh:  Uh...(she exchanges glances with Neera, who shrugs)  Never mind.
  This is not a topic for casual breakfast discussion anyway.  The really
  important thing is that once we figured out their numbering system, the
  entire alphabet began to fall into place.
Neera:  (nods, excited)
Otto:  But how does knowing their numbers and letters get that middle bar
Parekh:  There are runes on the bar itself!  They're concealed by an
  illusion, but I had a hunch that might be the case, so I was able to
  find them.
Neera:  If we're right, then all we have to do is touch the runes in the
  correct sequence to lift the bar.
Jutokai:  (shaking his head)  Craziest thing I ever heard.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)
Bosco:  I like the part about the hidden runes, though.  Damn clever.
Ys:  Not clever enough, it would seem.
Neera:  Let's hope.
Mongo:  Just how sure _are_ you about all of this?
Neera:  Have you ever cracked a code, deciphered a secret alphabet, or any
  such thing?
Mongo:  Uh, no.
Neera:  If you ever do, you'll likely find that everything just suddenly
  becomes crystal clear, and you know, you just KNOW, that you've got it
Mongo:  Well, that's great.  (he gestures to the door with his hammer)  I
  say go for it - let's quit messing around.
Gorgo:  Damn right.
Belphanior:  Yeah...
Parekh:  (glances at Neera)  We'd better tell him.
Neera:  (nods)
Belphanior:  What?
Neera:  Remember when I told you before that there was some sort of
  warning contained in these runes?
Belphanior:  Uh...yeah-
Mongo:  Yeah, yeah, so what?
Neera:  In the course of figuring out how to beat this third bar, I've
  made out more of the warning message.  It says something about the
  eyes...that the breaking of these seals will unleash the eyes upon
  the world.
Otto:  Eyes, huh?  (to Belphanior)  A beholder?
Belphanior:  Maybe.
Parekh:  Or maybe a horde of them.  We're not sure - the runes are too
Neera:  Not to mention that we're translating a long-dead language here,
  in a hurry and with little solid reference.
Belphanior:  So the question is, do we press on, despite the warning on
  this portal?
Mongo:  Hell yeah!  When has anything ever stopped us before?
Belphanior:  (regards the others)  Any objections?

  There was a nervous silence from the rest of the party - but nobody
was against the idea.

Belphanior:  We move ahead, then.
Neera:  Very well.  (to Parekh)  Which of us will do it?
Parekh:  I don't mind you doing it, but I have better protections, just
  in case something happens...
Neera:  If you can put these protections on me, I'd like to be the one to
  unlock the door.
Parekh:  If that's what you want.
Neera:  It is.

  Parekh cast several spells upon Neera, conferring protective shells and
skins upon the sage.  When Neera was ready, she stood before the bar, her
arms reaching up to touch one rune, and then another.  There were more
than two dozen symbols across the length of the bar, each of them unique,
so there was really no chance that anyone could ever have done this by

Neera:  (concentrating utterly on her task, she reads the sequence from
  a piece of parchment as she touches the runes)
Gorgo:  (muttering)  This is silly.
Zhao:  Give her a chance...who knows?
Razor Charlie:  (shaking his head)
Otto:  Shh, all of you.
Neera:  (her hands moving deftly over the bar's length)  ...and...there!

  To the amazement of at least some members of the party, the bar began
to melt away, just like the others had done.  Within moments, this third
and final obstacle to the party's progress was little more than a puddle
on the floor, bubbling away into nothingness.

Bosco:  (babbling to himself)  Where no one has gone before...
Neera:  (smiles triumphantly)
Mongo:  Well, fuck - it worked!

next:      into the inner Tomb!
released:  4/12/01
notes:     I was torn as to what the third bar's secret would be.  I was
  thinking about something for a priest, or a thief, but that seemed so
  cliched.  I went with something else, something that, combined with the
  other two bars, would overall require a diverse and competent party to

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