Chapter #1041

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
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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       +
+   1991-2020 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!                                          +
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+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+   Neera          12th level female human sorceress/sage/astrologer      +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
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+   Date:          7/5/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          early afternoon                                        +
+   Place:         a vault deep beneath the northeastern Yatil Mountains  +
+   Climate:       moderate                                               +
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+   "I hate mysteries. They bug me. They need to be solved."            +
+             - Barry Allen, from _Arrow_ episode 2.8, _The Scientist_    +
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                   MXLI.  Research Under Pressure





  Four weeks after the great, terrible magical explosion that transported
the majority of the party away to parts unknown, Neera's long hours of
deep and meticulous research may have finally paid off...

Neera:  (sits back, crossing her arms and smiling faintly)  Gotcha.

  Initially, the sorceress had planned to focus her efforts on finding and
rescuing the others.  However, after a few days of work toward that end,
it had become apparent that in order to understand what had happened to
them and why, she first needed to understand the nature of the enchantment
that protected Mesoloth's subterranean vault.  Accordingly, she'd shifted
her efforts toward learning everything possible about whatever unknown
magic had been used to ward the place and prevent any magical items from
being taken from its confines.  Fortunately, she had previously identified
a particular book on the third floor that contained that rarest and most
potent of spells:  a true dweomer.  An educated guess had led her to begin
unraveling the mysteries of that tome, and her hunch had proven correct:
not only were its contents indeed such a mighty incantation, but one that
pertained specifically to warding.  She was all but certain that this was
the spell used to protect the vault against the removal of any magical
items, and knowing that, she had commenced a thorough study of the book's
contents.
  This wasn't Neera's first experience with a true dweomer; previously,
she had spent some time studying another powerful tome, that one unearthed
in the hidden lair of the arch-lich Xusia.  That one had contained the
formula necessary to bring about a lasting eclipse, one which would have
forever blocked the sun's rays from touching the world.  She had actually
been close to fully comprehending that dweomer, but hadn't had enough time
to fully read and decipher everything before the book had been stolen by
vampires.  That had eventually led to the destruction of Skava-Ra, the
mythical underground city of vampires, along with its god-king and most
of its inhabitants.  Anyhow, both of those spells - an immensely powerful
protective ward and a permanent eclipse of the sun - were just two known
examples of true dweomers.  Other possibilities (which were legendary but
only within the highest circles of wizards and sages) included plagues
that lasted for years and devastated entire kingdoms, fires brought down
from the heavens above, enchantments that bolstered the strength of mortal
armies, and the like.
  Aside from their sheer power, the common properties of true dweomers
seemed to be twofold:  first, that the vast majority of wizards didn't
even know they existed (and couldn't utilize them even if they did), and
second, that the casting of them required multiple wizards of great power
and ability.  On the basis of the latter alone, Neera knew that she would
not be able to learn or cast the warding spell - but that wasn't her goal.
All she needed to accomplish was the gaining of some understanding about
how that true dweomer actually worked, which would then lead to further
understanding about how it could be bypassed.  And she had an ace in the
hole:  once she'd gleaned all she could from the tome, she had then used
Loom of Ages to peer back in time and observe the actual casting of the
spell of warding.  She had been confident that the sum of all knowledge
gained from these dual sources would provide her the answer she needed.
  And she had been right....because now she had made a major breakthrough.

Ys:  (having happened to be nearby, he hurries over, followed in due time
  by the shorter-legged Mongo)  What is it?  Have you learned something?
Neera:  (excitedly)  It appears that the dragon actually DIDN'T use the
  true dweomer...or at least not its full extent.  That would have woven
  a full and complete barrier against everything...physical movement, any
  spells of scrying or detection or travel...everything!  But instead, it
  basically-  (she pauses)  -for lack of a better word, dissected the true
  dweomer into its component pieces, and focused on just some of them.
  (she gestures)  Don't you see?  That's how the dragon was able to cast
  such a powerful enchantment on its own!
Mongo:  (looks at Ys)
Ys:  (looks at Mongo)
Mongo:  I knew it!  (he starts laughing)  Actually, I have no idea what
  the hell you're talking about.  But I'm glad it means something to you.
Neera:  It means a couple of things...first, the dragon was smarter and
  a more experienced spellcaster than we thought...second, and far more
  importantly, I should be able to decipher and reverse-engineer the
  incantations that it cast to guard this place, as long as I analyze and
  then counter them in the precise order necessary.
Mongo:  Right.  You do that.  (he looks around impatiently)  So when will
  we be able to leave this place, and when will we know about Belphanior
  and the others?
Neera:  (wearily)  It's hard to say.  It could be a week, or it could be
  a month.  I feel good about the chances of success, but there's still a
  great deal of work ahead.
Ys:  (notes the dark circles under her eyes, and her generally unkempt
  appearance)  Perhaps you should take a break...get some rest.
Neera:  There's no time.  (she begins rummaging around in a small pile
  of potion bottles, most of which are now empty)  Once I understand and
  then defeat the warding magic, I'll have gained the knowledge needed
  to figure out what happened to the others.  (she finds a particular
  vial, and drinks its contents)  Ahh.  Better.  (she closes her eyes for
  a few moments, then looks around with renewed vigor)  And I'll also need
  to use the Loom of Ages to take a fresh look at that weird explosion,
  in case there are any clues to spot.

  The sorceress ignored the two warriors as she got back to work; after
a short while, they wandered away to talk amongst themselves.

Ys:  I'm worried about her.
Mongo:  How so?
Ys:  She's working too hard.  I mean, I've seen her like this before, but
  never for weeks at a time.
Mongo:  I didn't think anything of it.  She seems to enjoy this sort of
  research, and to be really damn good at it too.
Ys:  True, but no one can keep this kind of pace up for long.  She's using
  magical potions to help keep herself awake and focused, which means she
  isn't getting enough sleep.
Mongo:  (nods)  I've seen this a few times, with some wizards and similar
  types.  They can't stop thinking about what they're working on...even
  when they should.
Ys:  Right.  And yet, I can't exactly force her to stop and rest.
Mongo:  We could try.
Ys:  I'll speak with her again, when the right moment presents itself.
  Perhaps I can convince her to take a break after she reaches the next
  major accomplishment.
Mongo:  Yeah.  (he frowns)  On another subject, we may have a new problem.

  In recent days, the dwarf had begun to notice a strange murmuring coming
from within the pile of items belonging to Belphanior.  No one else heard
the sound, which resembled a gentle whispering of vague words and seemed
louder when he was closer to the elf's belongings.  After the third such
incident, he'd wisely decided to talk this over with Ys; they now had the
conversation on the other end of the vault, as far as possible from the
probable source of the noises.

Mongo:  -and you don't hear a thing?
Ys:  (shakes his scaly head)  Nothing, not even the faintest sound.  You
  do know what this is, right?
Mongo:  (nods grimly)  The elf's black blade.  We always knew it had some
  sort of personality, some thoughts of its own.  I guess it's trying to
  talk to us now, since Belphanior's not here.  (he frowns)  Which is kind
  of creepy, if you ask me.
Ys:  (grimly)  Whatever you may know about the dark sword, believe me
  when I say, it's worse.  That weapon does have a mind of its own, and
  a will...and it can exert those upon Belphanior, or any others who are
  nearby.
Mongo:  That's not good.
Ys:  I once heard Belphanior mention that in the past, the sword had even
  taken control of weaker people, and compelled them to actions...even to
  kill.
Mongo:  That wouldn't normally be a problem with Belphanior, because he's
  not weak...and because he sees a lot of battle and killing anyway.  (he
  frowns)  Wait, are you saying the sword is talking to me because it
  thinks I'm the weakest one here?  (he glances at Neera, all the way on
  the other end of the floor)
Ys:  I have no idea how or why it chose which of us to communicate with.
  The important thing is that we need to avoid such communication.  That
  dark blade is best left alone.
Mongo:  Hmm.

  The reptilian had already considered all of this.  While Neera was no
warrior, her intellect and determination were formidable in other ways.
As for Ys himself, he had no idea why Blackrazor would target Mongo over
him - but it was apparently happening.  Of course, there was no reason to
share his thoughts with the dwarf, aside from the probable best course of
action.

Ys:  We know we can't take the thing out of here, and we're not planning
  on leaving anytime soon.  I'd suggest that we put it as far away from
  us - any of us - as possible.
Mongo:  Stash it, eh?  (he grins suddenly)  I know just the place!

  The dwarf was aware that somewhere among Belphanior's possessions was
a portable hole, but he didn't want to rummage through those things, or
know what else might be kept within that enchanted item.  It didn't even
matter, because Mongo also possessed one of those extradimensional storage
spaces.

Mongo:  (unfolds the thing)
Ys:  Ah.
Mongo:  Let's get the sword and hide it away here, where we won't hear its
  whispers and cries.

  They did, but momentarily - as the sheathed weapon was brought closer
to the now-opened portable hole - it began to...resist, attempting to
exert its willpower on the dwarf.

Mongo:  (blinks, as his head fills with visions of himself in battle with
  the black blade, hacking and slaying untold faceless foes with wild and
  savage abandon)  Whoa.  (he shakes his head)
Ys:  Eh?
Mongo:  (sets his jaw)  Nothing.

  The sword had made its best effort, but to tell the truth, Mongo had
been dealing with the combined ownership of both his warhammer and his
armor for a long time now.  Both were mighty artifacts which exerted their
own unique influences on him; whether he knew it or not, the many years of
this had actually strengthened his own willpower and resistance to the
desires and urges of other such items.  While Blackrazor could have easily
enthralled a commoner, or even a less experienced adventurer, the sword
was unable to bend Mongo to its will - at least not right now.

Mongo:  (reaches into the hole and gently sets the weapon inside, then
  folds the portal back up, closing it and causing the whispering to
  cease abruptly)  There.
Ys:  Good.  My only worry now is that whenever it comes out, its hunger
  will have grown to even more powerful levels.
Mongo:  We'll deal with that when the time comes.  There's nothing in
  the hole that I need anytime soon.
Ys:  Very well.  (he finds himself wondering if the sword made a mistake
  and chose the wrong target to try and compel to action)

  Aside from interludes like this, the two warriors continued to have very
little to do while Neera worked all day long (and sometimes all night long
as well.)  Ys continued to try and convince her to get more rest, and she
continued to avoid doing so.  There were times when the sorceress wasn't
even aware of their presence - like when she was using the Loom of Ages to
peer into the past, her eyes glazed over as she watched and heard things
no one else was privy to.  They kept doing the only thing they could do,
which was to be there to guard her and offer support to the best of their
ability.  It was a break from the normal use of their particular skillset,
as their greatest enemy was boredom.
  Fortunately, Neera's pace of work seemed to thrive on each success, and
less than a week after realizing the nature of the warding enchantment,
she made a startling announcement.

Neera:  (strides away from the table triumphantly, her face flush with
  emotion)  I've done it!
Ys:  How so?
Neera:  We'll have to test it, but I've found the mechanism used by the
  dragon to remove magical items from this vault.
Mongo:  That's great!
Neera:  I will add that, in order to work the necessary magic, I'll need
  the aid of a certain magical item which we found here...but that's not
  an issue.  I've seen Belphanior use other items to achieve similar
  effects.  (she doesn't mention that the item she mentioned, from the
  hoard of Mesoloth, is much more powerful than either Belphanior's ring
  of Zaeon or his ruby skull of wizardry)
Ys:  So this is a good thing...or is it?  Where would we go?  Do we even
  want to go anywhere, until we've found the others?
Mongo:  (he immediately starts thinking about how they would get down from
  the mountainside ledge where the exit tunnel leads, which reminds him
  that the route is currently blocked by solid rock)  Hmmm.
Neera:  So...the first big problem is solved, or soon will be pending our
  testing.  And now-
Ys:  And now you will rest.
Neera:  We still have to determine what happened to Belphanior and the-
Ys:  I didn't say "can" rest, I said "will" rest.  We talked about this
  before, and I have allowed you to work yourself relentlessly for many
  weeks now.  (he notices that her jet-black hair now has a thick gray
  streak on one side)  So, before you resume your work and take on the
  challenge of the second problem...you are going to get a full night's
  rest.  No potions, no elixirs, and no complaining.  (he locks eyes with
  her)  Please tell me that you understand, and agree.
Neera:  (without her research distracting her, she suddenly realizes just
  how much her friend cares for her well-being, and is almost immediately
  overwhelmed by a strong wave of mental and emotional fatigue)  You're...
  absolutely right.  I'll rest.
Ys:  Good.  We've already prepared a bedroll and blankets for you, over
  on the opposite side of this floor, far from this table and all of your
  research.  (he glances over the piles of books and scrolls that nearly
  cover the table)
Neera:  (rubs her eyes)
Mongo:  (gently)  Rest.  Sleep.  We'll guard everything until you're back
  and refreshed.
Neera:  (nods wearily)  Very well.  And...thank you.  Both of you.  I know
  this must not have been easy, and there's more work ahead, but...we're
  getting there.





next:       tackling the second of the two big challenges
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   9/25/20
notes:      It's been fun to get away from the main group for a bit.
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