Chapter #1009

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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       +
+   1991-2016 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                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   Date:          6/5/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "Knowledge is power...and I want that knowledge."                     +
+            - from _the A-Team_ season 5, episode 8, _Family Reunion_    +

                   MIX.  The Hoard of Mesoloth

  After some preliminary identification of the many magical treasures in
Mesoloth's three-tiered subterranean vault, the adventurers decided to
call it a night, sleeping right there in the huge chamber.  There had of
course been no fires, but the temperature was comfortable, and the place
seemed safe enough.   Naturally, spells of guarding and warding had been
employed, just to be sure; regardless, the night was quiet and free from
incident, and morning found the group well-rested and ready to move on
with the formidable task before them...

Neera:  My mind is refreshed, my thoughts clear.  It's time to scry some
  magic items.
Hope:  I'll second that.
Skektek:  (nods, excited, as they begin reviewing the long list compiled
Ys:  (to Razor Charlie)  How would we actually know that it's morning?
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs, grimacing)
Irina:  (stretching kinks out of her muscles)  It feels like it, at any
wispy thing:  (floating around lazily)  ynnnn.
Mongo:  It's okay, everyone.  I'll just cook breakfast for us all.
Belphanior:  (to Otto)  Did you by any chance have any...strange dreams
  while camped here last night?
Otto:  (shakes his head)  Nope.  Why?
Belphanior:  (muttering)  Nothing.

  The elf wasn't being entirely truthful.  He actually had experienced
a series of dreams, or perhaps nightmares, last night.  While he usually
remembered such things in detail, all he had this morning was fragments,
scattered in his mind like mist at sunrise.  In one, he had been flying
high above the world, noticing numerous plumes of smoke from below...but
the nature and cause of those fires had eluded him in the dream.  In
another, he had been walking along a long, wide road whose edges were
lined with thousands and thousands of skulls.  In yet a third fragment
of dream, he'd wielded a strange blade of dull grey metal and faced a
gigantic scaled humanoid - most definitely not Ys or anything like him -
in battle.

Belphanior:  (becoming agitated at these partial memories whose meaning
  he cannot know, he takes a few moments to focus himself, then addresses
  the group)  Okay, let's recap what we know so far.  This place seems
  to be the dragon's retreat, where its knowledge and treasures could be
  stored, to be perused and admired at its whim.  A safe haven, far from
  the actual lair where the wyrm actually lived and slept, amidst a decoy
  treasure that would have been enough to satisfy, and fool, anyone else.
Neera:  (nods)
Belphanior:  Fires, even magical ones, won't light in here...and it's
  probable that other things that could destroy the books won't function
Hope:  (muttering to herself)  Wonder how the dragon pulled that off?

  They'd also discovered how the place stayed so clean:  shortly after
they had woken up, a feather duster (actually the one noted yesterday
evening) had animated itself and begun moving along the rows of books
and other items, slowly and methodically getting rid of any dust.  At
the same time, the broom (also noted previously) jumped to life and made
its way along the floor, working around the adventurers as it swept the
floor.  In both cases, dust and debris simply vanished as the enchanted
implements did their chores.

Hope:  Impressive.
Neera:  And better than an unseen servant.

  Examination of the sitting room on the third floor revealed further
wonders.  This semicircular niche, about twenty-five feet in diameter,
contained an arc of plush leather couches that proved extraordinarily
comfortable.  The old, round wooden table in the center of the ring of
couches had been noted as magical...and its unusual but wondrous power
had been discovered by sheer accident.  Belphanior had sat upon one of
the couches, simply to see if he could imagine what it must have been
like for Mesoloth to savor all of this.  As he relaxed on the soft
leather, he'd thought that it sure would be nice to have a glass of
fine Nyrondese brandy to enjoy at that moment.  And then in the blink
of an eye, a small crystal glass had appeared on the wooden table, its
contents _exactly_ what Belphanior had been craving.  Spells and other
divinations determined that the drink was not only safe to drink, but
also genuine.  Further experimentation revealed that the table could
create food as well as drink; all plates and utensils were fine silver,
all glasses fine crystal, all napkins fine cloth.  Any of these, as well
as leftover food, simply vanished if left undisturbed for more than a
short length of time.  Neera had theorized aloud that the table was a
minor artifact with reality-altering powers, except geared only toward
food and drink, and triggered by thoughts rather than words.

Belphanior:  So there's that.  It's just further evidence that this whole
  place was designed for an occupant of our size, instead of a full-sized
  dragon.  Why?  I'd have to say because all of the magic items were also
  sized for us, not the dragon.  (he holds up one hand, one finger of
  which bears one of his own magical rings)  Take this ring.  For us, it
  fits and can be seen and examined.  But to a three-hundred-foot long
  dragon, such a ring might as well be the head of a pin.  It's a matter
  of perspective.

  Although they had searched exhaustively, there were no other exits, no
hidden bedchambers or workshops or such.  This further cemented the elf's
belief that this was a showcase of magic and lore - nothing more, nothing
less.  Of course, it was one hell of a showcase.

Neera:  In addition to a couple hundred magic items, we need to consider
  the power of the non-magical books stored here...books about magic,
  about long-lost history...forgotten lore.  (she looks around)  Some
  of these tomes are surely priceless.
Belphanior:  Let's get to it, then.

  Neera was, as always, in charge of scrying; she had the most experience
with this sort of thing, not to mention a great natural aptitude for it.
Belphanior and Irina would be assisting her, the former because of his
enchanted crystal eye that could detect various things, the latter due to
her unique divination magic.

Neera:  We may have a huge advantage here.  (she produces a thin rod of
  gnarled wood, tipped with a small, bright green gemstone)  During the
  initial scrying yesterday, this particular item attracted my attention.
  So I took the liberty of removing it and studying it further.
Skektek:  You took something from the dragon's hoard-
Belphanior:  _Our_ hoard.
Skektek:  I thought we agreed not to mess with anything, until we'd had
  a chance to scry everything.
Neera:  (nods)  We did.  But in this one case, I think an exception was
  warranted.  (she holds the thin rod up)  I can't believe our fortune,
  but this appears to be the Finger of Boccob.
Skektek:  (having been about to shout something, he just stops)  Huh?
Belphanior:  That name rings a bell.
Mongo:  Ged used to use it all the time.
Belphanior:  Not the god Boccob, I mean, the _Finger_ of Boccob.
Skektek:  What Finger of Boccob?
Neera:  It's a minor artifact, and one that I'd always hoped to have a
  chance to find.  This wand's sole-  (she waves the stick at the wizard)
Skektek:  (recoils)  Hey, don't aim that thing at me!
Neera:  Sorry.  This wand's sole purpose - a purpose for which it holds
  vast powers, is to allow its wielder to discern and understand magical
  items, auras, dweomers, and the like.  Which makes perfect sense, given
  the type of dragon Mesoloth was, and what it was collecting here in this
Belphanior:  Are you sure that's actually what you think it is?
Neera:  All my scrying efforts late last night confirmed my suspicions.
  I've also tested it on some of my own magical items, successfully-
Belphanior:  I thought you were sleeping last night...resting.
Neera:  (clutching the wand, excited)  There was no way I could sleep
  until I knew for sure if this was what I thought it might be.  Don't
  you see?  This item-  (she waves the wand in the air to punctuate her
  statement)  -this is the best thing I could ever hope to own.  It fits
  perfectly with my skills, my magic, my interest, my life's work!  (to
  Belphanior)  You have your dark sword, which ensures that foes will
  never menace you again.  (to Mongo)  You have your mighty warhammer,
  with which you can level buildings.  Don't you see?  This wand is that,
  for me!  (she looks around triumphantly)
Belphanior:  Calm down.  We understand.
Neera:  (realizes that she got a little overexcited, and takes a moment
  to rest)  Whew.
Belphanior:  Trust me, we're happy that you're happy.
Neera:  Happy?  That word can't begin to describe how I feel right now.
  The scrying of items that used to take hours...will now take moments.
  In theory, no magical item can resist the wand's matter how
  powerful, or mysterious, or evil.  (she locks glances with the elf)  No
  more secrets.
Belphanior:  (thinking about how this item is just another piece of the
  puzzle he's been putting together with items such as Kronos' hourglass,
  the Eye of Celestian, the Loom of Ages, and the Seeking Scroll)
Mongo:  (to Neera)  So does this mean that we can figure out what all of
  this stuff is now?

  Momentarily, Neera and the others were ready.  Although she had faith
in her own skills as well as the powers of the newly-discovered wand, the
seer still wanted Belphanior and Irina assisting; if nothing else, their
abilities would help spot any dangers or curses that a particular item
might hold.

Neera:  Let's start with the magical books, tomes, and such from the
  topmost floor.

  As noted before, there were seventeen books that contained formulas for
various spells.  All of these were, of course wizard spells, and most of
the books seemed to be grouped by theme e.g. illusionary magic, divination
magic, destructive magic, and so on.

Skektek:  Yeahhhh.
Neera:  One of these tomes is something more than the others.  (she turns
  to Belphanior)  I believe it may contain a True Dweomer.
Belphanior:  Of what sort?
Neera:  Warding, of some sort...I think.  (she shakes her head)  Even
  with the Finger of Boccob, I can't know for certain, without further
  examination and research.
Hope:  So the wand isn't as powerful as you thought.
Neera:  Actually, yes, it is.  But even its powers of divination won't
  afford instantaneous knowledge, not in the case of unique, extremely
  powerful items.  (she glances reverently at the one tome)  We should
  revisit this later.
Belphanior:  It's your call.

  There were also eleven other books that bore enchantments.  Four of
these were manuals containing the magical processes and instructions to
create golems; there was one of each type (clay, flesh, stone, and iron.)
Three more of the books were of great value to wizards, as a careful and
thorough reading would increase their ability and spellcasting powers;
one was for good-aligned wizards, another for evil ones, and the third
for neutral ones.

Neera:  You have to be careful with these.  If you read one not meant for
  your particular disposition, the effects are...unpleasant.

  The eighth tome was similar to the last three, except it would only
make sense to (and benefit) priests.

Irina:  (nods, eager to eventually gain and utilize this powerful item)

  Two more of the magical books were linked, such that - wherever they
were, no matter how far apart - any writing in one would appear in the
other as well.

Hope:  Instant communication...I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a
  bad one.
Skektek:  Wonder if that works across different planes of existence?
Neera:  I doubt it.

  The last (eleventh) book was cursed to drive the reader insane over
time; the more one read, the worse the insanity became.

Hope:  We should burn that one.
Belphanior:  Or send it as a gift, to some enemy.

  They already knew about the other magical item from the third floor,
that wondrous table which would conjure food and drink.  After a short
break, they ventured down to the second floor, where many hundreds of
scrolls were stored.  As noted, twenty-nine of these contained at least
one wizard spell (though most contained several) and these incantations
ranged as widely in type as they did in power.

Belphanior:  The wizards can divide all of these spells up later, and
  transcribe them into spellbooks as appropriate.
Skektek:  That seems fair.
Hope:  There are plenty of spells to go around.

  Similarly, there was a baker's dozen of scrolls containing clerical
magic, anywhere from one to six spells, these being of varying degrees
of power.  As the only one of the group able to utilize such magic,
Irina was fairly pleased at this piece of the hoard.

Irina:  Some of these spells are outside Istus' scope, such as the ones
  having to do with the undead...but for the most part, these will be
Neera:  Now this map is interesting...(she unfurls it)  Look familiar?
Otto:  That'  This chamber.
Mongo:  What a stupid map.
Neera:  Not so.  This map will always depict a detailed drawing of all
  rooms, passages, etc within a few hundred feet...including secret and
  concealed doors, passages, and so forth.  Once we leave here, it will
  go blank until the next time it's taken into any place, constructed
  or natural.

  There were five enchanted scroll tubes here as well.  The ivory one
bestowed a measure of good luck upon its owner.  The wooden one was all
but indestructible (and indeed, held the map they had just examined.)
The scroll case of bone conveyed the ability to speak with the dead,
while the iron tube was cursed to destroy any paper put inside.  Last
but not least, the brass scroll case would add a random wizard spell to
any blank parchment inserted into it, but only every so often.

Hope:  That's pretty neat.
Skektek:  Depends on the spell.
Hope:  (scoffs at the other wizard)
Neera:  Whew.
Belphanior:  Are you okay?
Neera:  (rubs her temples)  This is taxing.  I'm going to need to rest
Belphanior:  You can stop right now if-
Neera:  Not now, just soon.  With the power of the wand, I think I can
  get through the rest...or at least, I'd like to try.
Mongo:  There's a whole lot of "rest" left down there on the first floor.
  It's all the armor and weapons, plus the weird stuff.
Neera:  It's fine.  Most of those things bear simple enchantments, so
  I won't have to waste much time on them.

  The group descended to the bottom floor, and Neera began her rounds,
using the notes from the day before as a guide.  There were a _lot_ of
items here, but only a few of them were noteworthy for bearing unusual
or powerful enchantments...or being cursed.  That shorter list consisted

  - one of the 3 suits of plate mail armor was cursed
  - one of the 5 suits of chain mail was of elven make
  - one of the 6 suits of leather armor was designed for a woman
  - three of the 11 helms were actually parts of the suits of plate mail
  - three more of the helms were damaged and only bore residual magic
  - two more of the helms were cursed to cause various afflictions
  - one of the 9 shields was of exceptional strength and durability
  - one of the 3 two-handed swords was cursed
  - one of the 2 bastard swords was a white dragon slayer blade
  - one of the 14 longswords bore a powerful defensive enchantment
  - one of the 7 shortswords was a sword of quickness
  - one of the 2 scimitars was a scimitar of speed
  - one of the 7 spears was cursed
  - one of the 6 maces was a mace of disruption
  - one of the 5 morningstars had additional fire powers
  - one of the 2 clubs bore an unusually powerful offensive enchantment
  - one of the 12 daggers/knives bore an exceptionally powerful offensive
  - four of the 37 arrows were of slaying (arachnids, giants, golems,
  - the quiver could hold about three times the normal number of arrows
  - two of the crossbows had powers (accuracy and distance)
  - two of the 29 crossbow bolts bore additional lightning magic
  - three of the 6 pairs of gauntlets were actually parts of the suits
    of plate mail
  - two more of the pairs of gauntlets bore different curses
  - one of the 4 belts conveyed hill giant strength
  - one of the 9 pairs of boots was cursed
  - one of the 3 backpacks was a backpack of holding
  - one of the 6 bags/sacks was cursed to devour anything put inside
  - three of the 9 rings were fairly powerful (regeneration, telekinesis,
    three wishes)
  - the first of the 2 rods was, of course, the Finger of Boccob, which
    was proving invaluable in this whole process
  - the other of the 2 rods was a rod of cancellation
  - the large mirror allowed scrying, communication, and spatial travel
  - the small metal urn could imprison a victim
  - the flask containing ever-churning water would cause a storm at sea
  - the tiny vial of liquid caused long sleep, years for a single drop
  - the small iron chest was enchanted to protect its contents against
    most conventional harm; more importantly perhaps, it held a dozen
    large, extremely valuable gemstones

Neera:  (slumps weakly against one wall, exhausted)  No more.  I'm done.
Belphanior:  You've done more than enough.  Rest now.  (he scoops her up
  in his arms, to take her to the couch on the third level)  Everyone,
  start loading all of this stuff up to take.  Remember not to put the
  bags of holding inside the portable holes, and leave the cursed items
  here for now.  (he heads for the spiral staircase)
Hope:  It seems like a shame to take this place apart...all that work
  Mesoloth did to organize these things.
Skektek:  I don't see why.  It was just a dragon.
Hope:  (shaking her head)  Damn shame.
Irina:  (feeling uneasy)  More than feels _wrong_.  (she goes
  after Belphanior, following up him the first staircase as he carries
  Neera away)
Belphanior:  What is it?
Irina:  Something's wrong.  I have a bad feeling about this...a really
  bad feeling.
Belphanior:  What do you mean, exactly?
Irina:  I'm not sure, but-
Belphanior:  There are no traps here, certainly not on the magic items.
  And we're not touching the cursed ones.  I can't just leave all of this
  treasure here...with these items, we can accomplish much in the world.
Irina:  I understand, but believe me when I say, we need to think this
Belphanior:  I'll tell you what.  You use your special magic and see if
  you can get me more details about what you're talking about.  (reaching
  the third floor, he heads for the couches)  I'll get Neera squared away
  and then I'll check back with you.  By then, everything we're taking
  should pretty much be loaded up.

  A short time later, everything had either been loaded into Mongo's
portable hole or else moved up to the third floor, near the exit passage
that wound up and out of the mountain.  The party prepared to leave with
their spoils.

Belphanior:  (to Irina)  Anything?
Irina:  (shaking her head)  This is strange.  For once, the future isn't
  clear to me...just chaos and uncertainty.
Belphanior:  Sounds like my entire life.  But if you can't tell me why
  we shouldn't proceed out of here, then there's no reason not to.
Irina:  All I know is this...something bad _could_ happen, and you're at
  the center of it.  You're the key.
Belphanior:  Then I should be able to control it.  (to the group)  Let's
Mongo:  (begins heading up the passage)  About damn time.  I was starting
  to wonder-

  A low humming sound had started to emanate from the rock all around

Belphanior:  What the hell?
Irina:  (looking around, concerned)
Otto:  (points to the polished marble floor of the lowest level)  Look!

  A gigantic and complex rune, about forty feet long, had appeared in
the stone floor.  It glowed with a soft yellowish-orange light, which
brightened and dimmed in sync with the humming sound coming from the
walls all around them.

Skektek:  We must have set off some sort of hidden trap!
Otto:  But we checked-
Belphanior:  Apparently not well enough.
Irina:  It's not a trap!  It's some sort of enchantment, of a kind I've
  never felt before!
wispy thing:  (flying around looking concerned)  sprrd.
Mongo:  (begins wondering if they could reach the exit passage before a
  cave-in buries the entire chamber)
Skektek:  (hops from foot to foot as a slight vibration begins building
  in the floor)  This isn't good.
Hope:  Maybe we should teleport out of here...if that will even work in
  this place.
Belphanior:  It will.  We have the Eye of Celestian, which is stronger
  than any teleportation spell.  But I have to operate it...(he glances
  to Neera, a little over a hundred feet away in the alcove with the
  leather couches)
Ys:  (sprints in that direction)  I'll get her.
Otto:  (feels something small hit his head)  Huh?  (he looks up, just as
  a large crack appears in the roof of the passage overhead)
Razor Charlie:  (looking a bit worried, he grimaces)

  The question about whether or not to teleport became moot as the exit
passage ahead of them suddenly collapsed in a blast of dust and debris.

Mongo:  (watches as Razor Charlie is blown past him, crashing into the
  wall nearby)  Shit!
Skektek:  This place is coming apart.
Belphanior:  That settles it, then.  (he begins activating the powerful
  magicks of the Eye of Celestian)

  Nobody who had ever been in this chamber - past or present, dragon or
adventurers - could have anticipated or even conceived of what happened
next.  On one side of things, there was a centuries-old and quite possibly
unique ward of guarding built into the entire vault.  Its purpose was to
prevent magical items - all magical items, though the adventurers didn't
yet know that - from leaving the vault, and it was fed and bolstered by
the auras of the very items that fell under its enchantment.  Bolstered
by the energies of the party's many powerful magical possessions, the
guarding magic was now more potent than ever before.  On the other side
of things, Belphanior was activating a magical transportation device of
artifact-level power, an item that a greater deity had likely had a hand
in creating.  The Eye of Celestian could transport people and things not
only across great distances, but also across entire planes of existence.
Unspeakably powerful magic of teleportation now tried to force an escape
from unimaginably powerful magic designed to prevent escape.
  It was the magical equivalent of an unstoppable force meeting an
immovable object...and it was a challenge neither could fully win.  It
didn't even matter than Belphanior hadn't fully activated the Eye just
yet, or that the party hadn't fully departed the vault just yet.  Magicks
of this scope and intensity didn't wait for mortals to fully invoke them
before reacting with each other - they challenged each other directly,
with no regard for the fate of the mortals, and with epic results.

Belphanior:  (holding the Eye of Celestian, he sees weird multicolored
  energies surround it, just before a tremendous white flash)

  That was the last thing the elf - or any of them - saw before a titanic
blast of strange magical energy filled the entire vault, bringing with
it, perhaps, oblivion.

next:       you won't believe it
released:   5/27/2016
notes:      Before I was able to fully write this arc, I realized that
  first I had to sit down with the (extensive) list of magical items and
  figure out what each and every one of them was.  That's fun work, but
  it's also hard work.  It took many hours, and I didn't even consult
  the internet or my accessories library for new ideas, I just used all
  standard magic items or made new ones up on the spot.
    Any generic magical armor/shield/weapon that I noted as unusual was
  either a +4 or +5 item; "unusual" meant +4 and "exceptional" meant +5.

    I wrestled with the idea of letting them get a hoard of this size
  and power, but it actually _is_ realistic for an old, magic-oriented
  dragon.  Having said that, I'll also say that I've come up with a way
  to lessen the impact of the hoard on upcoming stories...a way that
  really dovetails very nicely into the need for one final safeguard in
  the vault.  But if you're reading this, then you know that something
  major just happened.

    Whatever happens next, be aware that episode 1010 and probably the
  next couple will be written from my vacation in the Dominican Republic.
  I say that now, as I type this at the end of 1009, in early May, to
  provide you a sort of time capsule.
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