Chapter #1103

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic VI      +
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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       +
+   1991-2022 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        +
+   Kronos         ancient lich wizard                                    +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+   Date:          4/13/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          afternoon                                              +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "Knowledge is the currency of the universe."                          +
+                  - Giorgio Tsoukalos, from _Ancient Aliens_             +
+                    episode 4.2, _The Doomsday Prophecies_               +

                   MCIII.  Kronos' Advantage

  After returning from the Center of Time and finding his treasure hoard
plundered - and several of his companions missing - Belphanior is one
step closer to getting some answers.

Kronos:  (stoically)  I speak of the Throne of the Gods.
Parekh:  (quietly pleased that her unspoken guess was correct)
Belphanior:  I see why you didn't want to speak of this in front of the
Kronos:  Correct.  And I am counting on you to keep this to yourselves.
  I am extending quite a bit of trust here.
Belphanior:  (nods)  Years ago, I would have laughed...but these days I'm
  well aware of the existence and power of such legendary items.
Kronos:  It may be legendary, but it is also in my possession.  And I can
  use it to locate your companions. advised that they are
  not on this world, which could mean a difficult journey, followed by
  some challenges the like of which you've never encountered before.  It
  will depend upon what plane, or demi-plane, or alternate plane they are
Belphanior:  (thinking of the Eye of Celestian)  The journey isn't a
  problem.  We'll worry about the rest once we know where we're going.
Parekh:  I have already consulted Pallin, and secured his assistance with
  this journey, wherever it may lead.
Belphanior:  I don't need his help.
Parekh:  I think you do.  Consider...your item can move you from place to
  place, but Pallin has many years - no, decades - of experience with such
  travel...the particulars of doing it safely...the risks to watch out for
  while making such journeys.  On your own, you may have a good chance of
  success; with Pallin's help, you have a greater chance of success.  Why
  refuse assistance that will increase the odds of finding and saving your
Belphanior:  I-  the-  Well.  (he frowns, realizing that he's been out-
  argued)  Your logic is indisputable.  We will accept the help.
Parekh:  Good.  And I'll be coming along as well.  Neera is like...a
  daughter to me.  I would see her returned home safely.
Belphanior:  (nods, pausing before turning back to Kronos)  So let's get
  to it.
Kronos:  There is no "us" for this endeavor.  The Throne lies deep within
  my remote fortress, and can only be employed by the one who sits upon
  it.  I will utilize its powers to locate your companions, then share
  that location with the rest of you, at which point you may do as you
Belphanior:  (thinks on this for a moment)  Very well.

  What the elf wanted to do - really wanted to do, to be sure - was ask
(or even demand) that the lich help with the recovery effort.  After all,
this had happened because Belphanior and the others had gone along with
Kronos to deal with the Crimson Blades.  As far as he was concerned, it
was Kronos' obligation to repay that favor with one of his own.  And yet,
something in the lich's tone of voice...something in his eyes...made it
clear that simply finding the missing companions was the extent of the
help he was willing to provide.  And when it came down to it, all that
Belphanior really needed was a chance.  If all Kronos could do was point
him in the right direction, that would be enough; the elf and his allies
would do the rest.

Kronos:  Remain here.  I shall return in due time.  (with that, he begins
  chanting some arcane words, in a low voice...and moments later, fades
  from sight)
Belphanior:  Hm.  (to Parekh)  He can come and go as he pleases, within
  your dwelling here?
Parekh:  Not as he pleases.  I granted him entry this time, as I granted
  him exit.  (he shakes her head)  Although it is possible that he could
  find a way to overcome such protections.  One never knows...and after
  all, the lich is older, and has been at this longer, than any of us...
  me, you, even the elders of your race.
Belphanior:  True.  It's a tough call, whether to trust him or not.
Parekh:  And yet, you have trusted him, in the past.  And now we are all
  trusting him.
Belphanior:  I wouldn't have journeyed to the end of time if I was that
  worried about his goals and motivations.  Of course, look how _that_
  ended up working out for me.  (scowling to himself, he resolves to make
  whoever robbed the vault pay dearly for their actions)

  Elsewhere - specifically in the distant reaches of the Corusk mountain
range, within the remote spire of rock that served as Kronos' lair - the
lich walked through the dusty, long-silent hallways and chambers of his
home, not entirely oblivious to Belphanior's current distress.  The lich
was well aware that the blame for these recent events was partially his
own, but simply finding Belphanior's lost companions would be enough.
The elf was entirely capable of recovering them, especially with the aid
of both Parekh and Pallin, and everyone concerned knew it.
  Moving through a maze of passages, stairways, and connecting rooms that
only he could navigate with ease, the lich eventually walked down a wide
passageway with a high, arched ceiling.  A dozen unseen but highly lethal
traps - on or beneath the floor, behind the walls, above or within the
ceiling - were not sprung, because Kronos willed it to not happen.  The
passage opened into a large tetrahedral room, its larger side most distant
from the entryway.  This chamber's triangular walls were smooth and even.
At its far end was a massive door; eight feet high, six feet wide,
and several inches thick, this portal was fashioned of an alloy of seven
metals and heavily enchanted to render it near-impenetrable.  It also
bore multiple protective glyphs, symbols, and other wards that would pose
significant challenges (and inflict terrible harm) on anyone except their
creator.  The rock on all sides of the door actually _was_ impenetrable,
as such protective magic was far stronger when an entryway wasn't a part
of the enchantment.
  To either side of the sturdy portal stood a hulking golem of black iron.
These guardians stood twelve feet tall and fashioned in the shape of
armored warriors, although the armor was of a design not seen in the
Flanaess for two thousand years.  However, they had been augmented to be
even more formidable opponents than others of their kind.  Within the
heart of each of these constructs burned a magical gemstone taken from the
Elemental Plane of Fire.  These powerful engines of heat and flame fueled
not only a constant repair of any damage suffered by the golems, but also
allowed the golems to belch forth a cloud of incendiary gas every so often
during combat.  This attack was more than just mere fire; the gas clung to
any surface it touched, and kept burning for some time.  As if these extra
powers weren't enough, each golem had a gigantic sword welded into one
hand, and a massive hammer welded into the other hand.  Each construct
was fully capable of utilizing both of these fearsome armaments in battle,
and all four weapons bore incredibly powerful offensive enchantments.

Kronos:  (strides toward the door, as the golems silently watch their
  creator and master approach)

  The lich simply walked up to the massive metal door and pushed it open,
entering the gigantic cavern beyond.  This place, within the very heart of
the mountain spire that was the lich's fortress, had no other entrances or
exits.  Roughly half-conical in shape, the chamber was several hundred feet
high and perhaps a hundred in radius.  The sizable cavern was illuminated
by some sort of magical light emanating from the object in the center of
the far wall, an object that dominated the entire chamber:

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          ___/  \______:             #[[
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  The far end of the room (the flat side of the half-cone) held a raised
square platform in its center, hewn from the surrounding rock.  This
elevated area was a good thirty feet across, and had three tiers on all
sides, connecting the cavern floor to its top surface.  Each of these
three steps was an entire foot in height, as if fashioned for a giant.
Atop the elevated platform was a massive stone chair, also sized for a
giant; one would have had to be thirty feet tall to sit comfortably upon
this throne, and the seat alone was nearly fifteen feet above the surface
of the pedestal on which the throne rested.
  Kronos knew that the size and shape of the throne were a formality, and
would not prevent anyone from sitting atop it and using its powers.  In
fact, he'd probably done more research on the thing than anyone in the
world, tying together tales and myths and legends with the kind of actual
knowledge that comes from actually possessing such a thing.  The Throne
of the Gods took on a different appearance - size, shape, material - each
time it moved.  And it moved each time a new and different being sat upon
it.  Kronos had learned this the hard way, eight centuries past, when he
first found the thing near the bottom of a deep and dangerous dungeon in
a faraway land.  As he'd approached the ornate, gleaming golden throne,
it was obvious that the thing was surpassingly powerful...and most likely
surpassingly dangerous.  But that was a chance the lich had been willing
to take, and so he'd climbed those gilded gold steps and seated himself
atop the thing...only to find himself and the throne instantly relocated
within a cavern countless leagues from the previous site.
  And this was how Kronos had come to build his fortress deep in the icy
Corusk Mountains.  He hadn't chosen the location, as those who had been
there likely assumed; it had been chosen for him because of the power of
the Throne, and the things he could do with that power.  The fact that
the frigid climate in the area was more pleasant for the lich was just an
unexpected bonus.

Kronos:  (stands before the Throne, his arms crossed, simply staring at

  As impressive as its physical appearance was, the Throne's powers were
even more so.  One had to be sitting on it to take advantage of them, of
course, but they were varied and potent.  For any being within the range
of sight, all truths would be laid bare before the Throne and its master.
Illusions and assumed forms would be dispelled, alignments would be known,
magical auras would be discerned, lies would be revealed...and with some
effort, the one who sat on the Throne could know the thoughts of others
nearby.  And, more to the point in this current instance, the artifact
granted scrying powers of ultimate potency.  No being, living or unliving,
present or past, could hide from the Throne's power...not even on another
plane of existence.  Legend had it that one who sat upon the throne could
speak with the gods, but thus far, Kronos had been unable to evoke such
powers.  His working theory was that one had to actually _be_ a god in
order to communicate in this way; it was also possible that the gods only
reached out to the Throne's occupant if they chose to.  Whatever the case,
he simply hadn't had the time lately to research this further.
  Of course, using any of these powers came at a cost:  use of the Throne
weakened the user to some extent.  Simply sitting on it and seeing things
as they truly were was tiring, and would require perhaps an hour of rest
afterward.  Peering into the thoughts of others might result in several
hours of near-lethargy for the user.  The scrying, however, would lead to
one being depleted for the better part of a day...and perhaps more, based
on where the subject of the scrying was actually located.  This was the
true reason for Kronos' refusal to help Belphanior once his mate had been
located:  the lich _couldn't_, because he wouldn't be in any shape to.  He
would never venture into a potentially risky situation (such as travel to
an unfamiliar extraplanar destination) in such a state, nor would he even
allow others to know of his diminished power.  The Throne of the Gods was
a mighty artifact, and its use exacted a substantial toll.  To be sure,
one had to have a certain mental capacity and aptitude to even be able to
sit on the thing without ill effect.  Otherwise, the best possible outcome
was permanent insanity, while some poor fools had been rendered completely
senseless - destined to live out the rest of their days as gibbering,
drooling idiots - after trying to command the throne's power.
  Kronos was fully capable of sitting on the thing and using it, and had
done so on many occasions in the past.  And as always, the toll it took
was worth it in the end.  It was no coincidence that the lich knew so much
about so many things...and he'd kept this secret, this source of much of
his knowledge, to himself for a long time.

Kronos:  (wondering if perhaps he might one day call those such as Parekh
  and Belphanior companions, or even allies, he frowns)  Hmm.

next:       the recovery
released:   4/15/2022
notes:      I really had no master plan with this arc or this artifact,
  I'm winging it, making it up as I go.  But it seems cool.

    I should probably note that there was a brief mention of the Throne
  of the Gods in a (fictionally chronologically) recent episode, 994, in
  which Belphanior cited the need for some item that could locate people
  and items.  Neera provided several options from myth and legend, the
  second of which was the Throne.  Most of what she surmised at that time
  was accurate wrt/ Kronos' musings in this episode, except that as it
  turns out, the Throne is not 100% stationary and doesn't flat-out kill
  some who sit upon it.  (Let's bear in mind that Neera can't be right
  about everything...just most things.)
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