Chapter #881

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                                   +   +
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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       +
+   1991-2005 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     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          7/3/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         unknown                                                +
+   Climate:       dry and cool                                           +
+   "I don't have any secrets."                                           +
+   "Maybe.  But I do."                                                   +
+                                                - from _The Natural_     +

                   DCCCLXXXI.  A Short Respite

  The adventurers have just made a narrow escape from an unknown location
where dark elves had been locked in battle with the undead forces of the
mummy-king Al-arakara.  Using the teleportation gateway - the same device
that brought them into peril to begin with - they have retreated.

Belphanior:  (steps out of the mist-filled stone archway)  Where have
  we...ah.  Of course.
Skektek:  I set it to the Pelisso Swamp destination.  That one's always
Belphanior:  Not if that black skeleton made it through and followed us
Otto:  I already thought of that.  (he gestures to Ys)

  The huge reptilian was standing to one side of the archway, his heavy
broadsword raised, ready to strike a mighty blow if any foe appeared from
the gateway.

Belphanior:  (backs away from the gateway, readying a spell)  That thing
  was fast.  I wouldn't be surprised if it reached the gateway and made
  the trip with us.
Skektek:  I'll blast it too, if-  (he frowns, as the mists within the
  gateway swirl and then condense, changing back to stone)  Or maybe not.
Otto:  Damn, that surprises me.  I thought for sure the skeleton-thing
  would follow us.
Elgon:  Maybe it ran into some other foe...or maybe it tripped.
Jenna:  Maybe the acid got it.
Razor Charlie:  Maybe it got stuck.
Skektek:  Between gateway destinations?  Hmm, that's possible.  I never
  thought about what would happen if someone or something went through
  a gateway at the precise moment it was shutting down...that could trap
  the traveler in-between worlds, within the non-space that links all the
  physical destinations on this plane of existence.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)  Right.
Belphanior:  Okay, we're safe, but now we know that the mummy-king is
  using the gateways.
Otto:  Where did that last one take us, anyway?  That wasn't the city
  beneath the Sea of Dust.
Elgon:  We were in the Underdark, no doubt about it.  Trust me, I've been
Belphanior:  (to Skektek)  That's another one we can check off the list.
Skektek:  Yep.
Belphanior:  We need rest...and more importantly, we need to consult the
  experts on runes and ancient languages.
Skektek:  Experts?  I only know of Neera.
Belphanior:  Her, and another.  If we can get the two of them together,
  with your notes on the gateways' runes, I think there's a good chance
  that we can decipher all of the remaining ones...and learn, once and
  for all, what the rest of the runes mean.
Skektek:  That would definitely help us explore the rest of the gateways.
Belphanior:  Yep.  In fact - despite the need for haste on further
  explorations - we're not making another move until we learn more.

  The elf was as good as his word; within the hour, he was sitting at a
table with Parekh, filling her in on recent events.

Belphanior:  -and that's twice we've encountered the mummy king.  There
  shouldn't have to be a third time.
Parekh:  From what you've told me, it sounds like he can't be killed by
  conventional means.
Belphanior:  He would have fallen beneath Blackrazor, except that he had
  some kind of super-stoneskin in place.  The blade barely nicked his
  skin, despite a dozen blows.
Parekh:  Well, he is over a thousand years old.  That's a lot of time to
  invent new, useful spells.
Belphanior:  Hell, look at you:  probably not even thirty years old, and
  you've come up with offensive and defensive spells that rival anything
  created by the Circle of Eight.
Parekh:  (smiles thinly)  Thirty...heh.  (she frowns suddenly)  As for the
  Circle of Eight, well...let's just say they should have admitted me when
  they had the chance.  (she shrugs)  Their loss.
Belphanior:  I guess so.  Now, to immediate business.  Do you think Neera
  can help us with these runes?
Parekh:  Absolutely, and especially if your friend Nenya, near Greyhawk,
  is everything you've claimed her to be.
Belphanior:  She knows as much about the Sueloise Empire as anyone.  With
  her experience in that field, and Neera's skills with ancient languages
  and alphabets, they'll have the rest of the gateway-runes deciphered in
  short order.  Hopefully.
Parekh:  Will this Nenya woman help you?
Belphanior:  I think so.  We're friends, after a fashion.  Well, actually,
  she's the disciple of a former friend of mine.  If that won't do it, all
  I have to do is promise her some Suel treasures, which I'll find in one
  or another of Xusia's gateway bolt-holes.
Parekh:  I see.
Belphanior:  While I'm here, I'd also like to see about analyzing some of
  the things we've found in those places.  I could use your help for that.
Parekh:  Not a problem.

  Belphanior viewed this relationship as a sort of barter system:  he did
the legwork to find and explore the gateways and their surroundings, while
Parekh (as well as Neera and Pallin) helped him unlock the mysteries he
found in those lost places.  The elf had a feeling that Parekh and those
allied with her wished to use the gateways for their own purposes at some
point in the future - and that was fine with him.  He didn't care, for all
he really wanted was the treasures and secrets that Xusia had possessed.
Already, he was more than halfway done with the process of finding and
taking them; of nineteen suspected gateway destinations, they had thus
far journeyed to eleven.  No matter what clues Belphanior had (or hadn't)
found, he just couldn't shake the feeling that the gateway chambers still
contained secrets...powerful ones that were there for the taking.  If he
didn't get them, someone else would, sooner or later.
  As for the potentially-powerful magical items found in explorations thus
far, Belphanior or his people had several.  Skektek now carried a wand
whose nature and powers were unknown, and then there were the treasures
found in the undersea complex:  the full suit of plate mail and the weird
trident.  If these items turned out to be useful, he or one of his crew
would keep them; if not, they'd be exchanged for things that were useful.
  The elf stopped daydreaming as he realized that Parekh was staring at
him, as if trying to read his thoughts.

Parekh:  You must be thinking about treasures still buried, secrets still
Belphanior:  I've thought about those things since my youth - I can't help
  it.  But actually, right now I'm thinking about the foes we've run into
  so far, while exploring the gateways.  Al-arakara, Cespedes...what is
  their involvement, what do they want, and how can I defeat them?
Parekh:  Maybe they're not enemies after all.  Based on what you've said,
  Al-arakara is content to remain beneath the Sea of Dust and rule his
Belphanior:  He _was_ content to stay there.  Now that the gateway system
  is in use, he's taking an active role in things.
Parekh:  The question is this:  does the mummy-king seek simply to guard
  his empire, protect his people...or does he want to expand into the rest
  of the Flanaess, using the gateways?
Belphanior:  Exactly my question.  As for Cespedes...I don't know about
  that one.  He allied with Xusia in the Fortress of the Nine, but as I
  sit here and think about it, I can't figure out _why_.  Most of those
  others were undead, or at least evil.  Cespedes didn't seem to fit in
  with that group, and when most of them had fallen, he bolted.
Parekh:  An...interesting line of thought.
Belphanior:  Anyway, I'll figure it out someday.  For now, I need rest,
  as do my people.
Parekh:  Are you going to bring Nenya here, or venture to her kingdom?
Belphanior:  We'll go there.  (he thinks about the potential pitfalls of
  mixing groups of associates, especially magi)  If we could just take
  Neera and go there for a day or so...?
Parekh:  Absolutely.
Belphanior:  We'll stay there tonight, then, and rest.  I'll also show
  those Sueloise items to Nenya, and see if she can figure out what they
Parekh:  That sounds good.  If she can't unlock their secrets, I'll give
  it a try when you return.

  By nightfall, the elf and his crew were gone, teleported away to the
vicinity of Deryck and Nenya's kingdom, southwest of the City of Greyhawk.
This left Parekh alone to do as she pleased; later that night, she locked
herself in a small, hemispherical chamber deep within her home.  Taking a
seat in a plush chair, she rested her hands upon a small, round table for
a moment...and then she worked a very special spell.

ghostly face:  (appears across the table)  He has returned?

  The face and voice were that of Pallin, the grey elven sorcerer who
was master of spatial magic.  Indeed, that one had designed the magic
that allowed them to converse as they were now.

Parekh:  He's back, for a short while.  After he learns more about the
  runes, he'll be exploring once again.
Pallin-image:  Excellent.  By serving himself, he serves us as well.

  Another image appeared then...and another, and another.  The ghostly
faces hovered around the small table, facilitating a meeting of this
secret cabal of archmagi.  The image nearest to Parekh, on her left,
glanced around for a moment before speaking up.

Cespedes-image:  Even I do not know what allies Xusia may have secreted
  within the gateways.

  Parekh smiled thinly, wondering what sort of a rage Belphanior would
fly into if he knew that Cespedes was now a member of the secret wizards'
cabal she had organized.  After all, Cespedes had once done his best to
destroy the elf and his companions in the great battle at the Fortress of
the Nine.  However, things had changed, allegiances had shifted, and
strange times made for strange alliances.  Parekh didn't expect to keep
this secret from Belphanior forever, but she intended to delay the issue
for as long as possible.

Cespedes-image:  The elf places himself at great risk by ferreting out
  all of those locations.
Pallin-image:  He lives for risk.  If Belphanior believes he can gain
  power - of any sort - he will go anywhere and do anything.
fourth image:  (nods, its visage partially-concealed by shadows)
Parekh:  We must, of course, continue to help him.
Pallin-image:  Yes.  Our plans for the gateways, while not malevolent
  like Xusia's, would yet be hindered by any...loose ends not found and
fifth image:  (nods, smiling)  Indeed.
Pallin-image:  Belphanior is doing us a great service, though he doesn't
  know it.
Cespedes:  And all parties win...a master stroke of manipulation.  This
  alliance is truly more visionary than the one controlled by Xusia.
Parekh:  Xusia wanted to overrun the world with his undead legions, and
  usher in a great age of darkness.  We, on the other hand, seek to help
  the people of the Flanaess.
Pallin:  By any means necessary, of course.

  Thus it was that this mysterious consortium of powerful wizards made
their own plans and plots, and sought to achieve their own aims, behind
the scenes and unknown to anyone.

next:       taking stock of the gateways and their treasures
released:   7/15/05
notes:      I'll update the gateways file next time, with a suffix of
  882; it will reflect whatever is learned from the combined efforts of
  Nenya and Neera.  Stay tuned.

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