Chapter #1010

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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                               +           +
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                                   +   +

+     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!                                          +
+   Date:          6/5/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          midmorning                                             +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
+   "Everything powerful is dangerous."                                   +
+         - from _Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D._ episode _The Asset_    +

                   MX.  Mesoloth's Last Laugh

  Neera had never been one to wake up slowly.  Unlike most people, who
drifted from unconsciousness to consciousness gradually and at their own
pace, she tended to awaken with mind racing at full speed.  Thus, before
she even opened her eyes, she was already recalling the last thing that
had happened:  the tremendous blast of magical energy, and a light so
bright that it was seen and felt through closed eyes.  What had it been?
And what exactly had caused it?  For that matter, were the adventurers
dead, their souls now on some other plane of existence?  Such things were
not uncommon, in her experience, especially when dealing with very potent

Neera:  (opens her eyes slowly, and immediately recoils from a mouthful
  of sharp fangs)  Aie!
Ys:  (touches her shoulder gently)  Don't be alarmed.  It's just me.

  As her vision cleared, the sorceress realized that it was indeed her
companion, and not some horrible monster, staring her in the face.  She
began to sit up, but immediately regretted that attempt, as a powerful
wave of nausea swept through her body.

Neera:  Ugh.
Ys:  It should pass.  Mine did, after a few moments.
Neera:  (looks around, slowly and for the first time since awakening)
  We're still in the vault.
Mongo:  (wanders into view)  Well, some of us are.
Neera:  (blinks, shaking her head to try and clear the queasiness)  What
  do you mean?

  However, she answered her own question simply by finally taking a good
look around.  After that titanic explosion, she would have expected the
three-tiered library-vault to be decimated, its contents destroyed or
scattered about.  Not so.  No blast marks or soot covered the walls, no
fires raged...and every book, scroll, and item was in place.  In fact,
there were quite a few new additions to the chamber, although they were
not unfamiliar.

Mongo:  (gestures to the six piles of assorted magical items in different
  locations on the topmost floor)  I already checked.  Each of those six
  piles matches, exactly, what Belphanior, Otto, Razor Charlie, Skektek,
  Hope, and Irina were carrying.  At least the magical stuff.  (he eyes
  the sheathed Blackrazor, wondering idly how long it's been since that
  dark blade has been out of Belphanior's possesion)
Neera:  And you didn't wake me-  (she frowns)  Just how long have you two
  been conscious?
Ys:  Mongo woke up first, as did I a short while later.
Mongo:  (somewhat apologetically)  We thought it would be better to let
  you rest for a while.
Ys:  (nods)
Neera:  I see.  (she stands up, taking Ys' offered arm for support)  From
  the looks of things, I'd guess the six of them are either elsewhere...
  or destroyed.  (she eyes the six piles of items, several of which are
  substantial)  Less all of their magic items, obviously.
Mongo:  Yeah, how the hell did that happen?
Ys:  And why didn't Belphanior know of this trap?  I thought he used the
  Loom of Ages to view the past.
Neera:  I can answer one of those questions with certainty, and take a
  good stab at the other.  Watching past events through the power of the
  loom is much like reading a rather thick book, one filled with mostly
  boring parts.
Mongo:  Well, at least you put it in terms I can understand.
Neera:  The wielder of the loom - no matter how skilled in its use - sees
  any past events in real time, meaning at the same speed they happened
  before.  So in order to note every detail about something, one would
  have to utilize the item for the same amount of time.  A battle that
  took three whole days...would require three whole days to watch, if you
  wanted to see EVERYTHING that happened during that battle.  For this
  place...the construction alone would have taken weeks if not months.
  And who knows exactly when Mesoloth worked whatever enchantment keeps
  magic items here?  Simply put, Belphanior didn't have the time to study
  this vault's past enough to see and know everything.
Ys:  Ah.
Neera:  The Loom is incredibly powerful, and useful, but that usefulness
  is proportional to the amount of time one has available, to spend with
  it.  (she frowns)  Also, I've been led to understand that its use is
  mentally taxing.  Even one of genius intellect can only utilize the
  thing for so long before fatigue sets in.  Many a night I've seen
  Belphanior after he spent time with the item...with red eyes, dark
  circles around his eyes, and nearly exhausted.  And he usually sleeps
  for half a day afterwards.
Mongo:  (pats Stormcrest)  That's why I prefer weapons and armor for my
  magic.  So about what happened...well, what _do_ you think happened?
Neera:  My theory - and remember, this is just a theory right now - is
  that whatever enchantment Mesoloth used to keep magic items here was
  abnormally powerful, at least equivalent to a Wish spell...and when
  that enchantment was challenged by one from an item of similar power-
Ys:  The Eye of Celestian.
Neera:  (nods)  Neither functioned properly, and in fact they combined
  to function in a manner no one could have planned, or guessed, would
  happen.  (she frowns, thinking rapidly)  The spell guarding this vault
  obviously has something to do with magically transporting magic items
  back here, rather than allowing them to leave.  And the Eye's purpose
  is to transport people and objects through space, and even planes of
Mongo:  It would be like a sturdy battering ram hitting a powerful wall.
  (he nods)  Or my warhammer hitting a golem made of mithril or adamant.
Neera:  Yes.  The classic "unstoppable force meeting an immovable object"
  scenario...except with magical forces at the upper limit of conceivable
  power.  (she sighs)  The best case - the absolute BEST case - is that
  our six friends were drawn through a rift in space, and transported to
  another location...either on this world, or perhaps another.  The worst
  case...well...(she looks around sadly)
Mongo:  (helpfully)  At least there aren't six piles of ash over there.
  That's got to be a good sign.
Ys:  And what of the three of us?  Why were we not affected?
Neera:  My guess would be that the three of us were furthest from the Eye
  of Celestian when Belphanior attempted to use it.  (to Mongo)  You were
  actually outside the vault, at the beginning of the passage up to the
  surface.  (to Ys)  And you, like me, were over here near this alcove,
  almost a hundred feet away from the Eye.  So whatever it was, exactly,
  that happened...the three of us were apparently outside its influence.
Mongo:  (looking around, he strokes his unkempt beard)  That makes sense.
Ys:  (makes an odd face as something occurs to him)  Seven.
Mongo:  Huh?
Ys:  Six, plus the wispy thing.
Mongo:  Huh?
Ys:  I don't see the wisp here, so I'd assume it also shared the fate of
  Belphanior and the others, whatever that fate was.
Neera:  (nods)  And that's our next course of action...we need to devote
  all of our time and resources to finding our friends.  (she doesn't
  bother to add "if they still live" as she can't allow herself to think
  like that right now)
Mongo:  If you're talking about scrying and studying and all of that kind
  of mumbo-jumbo, just remember that our scaly friend and I won't be much
  help.  (to Ys)  Unless you're also secretly some kind of lizard-man
Ys:  (grins toothily)  I am not.  Although if I was, you would certainly
  have found out by now.
Neera:  No, I don't expect you two to be able to help me much.  At least
  not directly, anyway.
Mongo:  You mean we're in charge of guarding this place, and making food?
Neera:  The table will actually make all the food we need, if you prefer
  not to worry about that duty.  Also, I may need you two to assist with
  finding and bringing me tomes, scrolls, and items as needed.
Ys:  You can count on us.
Neera:  Thanks.
Mongo:  Yeah.  And also, if I'm understanding everything you've said since
  you woke up, we're basically trapped in here, since we can't bring our
  magic items out.
Neera:  That appears to be the case, but remember, we do have some really
  sizable advantages, too, as we attempt to learn exactly what happened
  to the others.  And figure out how to get out of here with all of our
Mongo:  Advantages?  What advantages?
Neera:  (gestures all around them)  Not only do we have our own magical
  items, but also those of the dragon.  Among other things, we possess
  here an artifact that lets us peer into the past...another artifact
  that can supposedly determine the location of anything...yet another
  artifact that can help us identify the powers and properties of pretty
  much any other magical item...a ring with three wishes...a mirror with
  potent scrying powers...several items that will bolster my spellcasting
  abilities.  And those are just the things that come to mind offhand.
  Plus I haven't even considered all the knowledge housed in this place.
  Yes, I'd say we definitely have some things working in our favor here.
Ys:  Your confidence is refreshing.  And contagious.
Neera:  (nods, a determined look on her thin face)  I'm glad you think
  so, because with the magical power currently contained in this vault,
  plus my own abilities and experience...there is no excuse for me not
  figuring this out.  None.  (she sets her jaw firmly)  Absolutely none.

next:       wait and see
released:   6/10/2016
notes:      This episode, 1010, holds the distinction of being written
  entirely from the Dominican Republic, while I was vacationing there in
  May 2016.  Come to think of it, this is likely the first episode that
  was written while I was not on United States soil; I've written parts
  of episodes from cruise ships, but can't recall writing while actually
  within other countries.

    So now, even with the incomplete information Neera pieced together
  here, it should be apparent where I'm heading with upcoming Belphanior
  stories:  he and most of his crew are elsewhere, and wherever it ends
  up being, they will have an uphill battle to not only get back home
  but just to survive.  It's the classic "18th level party stripped of
  all their cool stuff" scenario.  Incidentally, yes, I do already know
  where they are; I just haven't shared that yet.

    An unintended but really, really cool side-effect of what just took
  place is that Neera ended up being in charge.  Not just because she's
  the smartest person in the room (although she is) but also because she
  happens to be the only one who can solve the dual problems of finding
  the others and figuring out how to escape the vault with magical items
  intact.  Sure, they could all basic clothing and with no
  weapons, armor, spellbooks, etc.  But none of them would accept that.
  So for now, Neera's in charge.  But the task ahead is challenging.

    Last but far from least, random trivia:  most of you readers will
  first see this episode on June 10 2016.  Tomorrow, June 11, marks the
  anniversary of the too-early death of a man who had a tremendous and
  sustained impact on the fantasy genre:  Robert E. Howard, the brilliant
  but troubled creator of Conan the Barbarian.  You can and should read
  more about him here:
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