Chapter #1105

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                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic VI      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
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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        +
+     Hope         16th level female human wizard                         +
+       Poulos      8th level human warrior                               +
+     Irina        14th/7th level female human priestess/warrior          +
+     Otto         12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+     Paige        13th level human female warrior                        +
+     Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                             +
+     Skektek      14th level human wizard                                +
+     Ys           14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+                                                                         +
+   ALLIES                                                                +
+     Kronos       ancient lich wizard                                    +
+     Pallin       18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Parekh       18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+       Drak       15th level human barbarian warrior                     +
+   Date:          4/14/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          morning                                                +
+   Place:         Parekh's home (exact location unknown)                 +
+   Climate:       cool and pleasant                                      +
+   "Lesson one...always have a contingency plan."                        +
+                  - Sturgess, from _Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter_    +

                   MCV.  Proper Prior Planning

  In a strange and wondrous magical chamber deep within Parekh's home,
the preparations to open a gateway to a distant demiplane have begun...

Pallin:  (facing the immense tapestry-like frame on the far wall of the
  chamber, its interior now resembling the sky on a starry night after
  Parekh activated the item's power)

  The elven archmage was one of the world's foremost experts on matters
of magical travel, and the destination had already been imparted to him
by Kronos.  He chanted words of power while tracing invisible patterns
with his slender fingers...and presently, a small section of the field
of stars shifted and changed into a clear area, beyond which they could
see a small dark chamber.

Skektek:  What's that?
Parekh:  The one-way window is now a two-way portal.
Skektek:  (having known that, and having really been asking what they
  were looking at, and knowing that Parekh knows this, he shakes his head
  in exasperation)
Drak:  (holds his giant mallet ready, silently vigilant, in case someone
  or something comes through the portal and battle is required)
Hope:  As other planes go...that one's pretty puny.
Parekh:  (snaps her fingers, and a thin beam of light appears, shining
  from her hand toward and into the space beyond the portal)
Otto:  Hey, that looks like...
Belphanior:  (scrutinizing the place on the other side of the dimensional
  pathway with his magical eye)  I see them - all three of them!  But it
  looks like they're not moving.  We need to-  (he turns to Pallin)  Can
  I walk through there?
Pallin:  Of course.

  Without hesitation, the elf stepped into the gateway between planes,
and appeared within the dark area that the others were viewing.  Right
away, he noticed that the air here was stale, and the temperature cold.
The chamber - if it could even be called that, for it was barely ten feet
long and five wide - resembled a tiny cave or fissure of some sort.  Its
floor, walls, and ceiling appeared to be smooth but uneven black stone.
Nestled within this small space were Neera, Arusha, and Judhon - but all
three of the companions were still and unmoving, as if they had been
paralyzed in place where they stood.  Stood...or ran, for all three were
frozen in stances suggesting they had been running.

Belphanior:  That's strange.

  On the floor (or ground, or whatever it was) next to them were several
items:  a small iron chest, a haversack, a backpack, and four bags of
different sizes.  Some of these things looked vaguely familiar, but his
primary focus at the moment was Neera.

Belphanior:  (tentatively taps her still form on the shoulder, with no
  reaction or result)  Hmm.  (he carefully takes hold of her and picks
  her up, although she remains rigid and unmoving)

  Another, much larger form then entered the area, momentarily surprising
the elf until he saw who it was.

Ys:  Allow me to assist.  (he gently picks up Arusha and Judhon, one under
  each arm, and heads back to the shimmering gateway between this place
  and their home world)
Otto:  (also appears)  I'll get those other things.
Belphanior:  Thanks.

  With that, they quickly cleared everything out of the small cavern-like
area, and returned to the larger room where the others waited.

Skektek:  They're back!  But what's wrong with them?
Razor Charlie:  (grimaces)
Irina:  (moves to examine the trio of rediscovered companions)  We'll find
  out soon enough.
Parekh:  And in the meantime, I'd suggest we close the portal.
Pallin:  I'm already doing that.
Belphanior:  (having given Neera over to Irina, he turns back to the
  shimmering gateway and the small area beyond)  Is it just me, or is the
Pallin:  It is.  (he shuts down his portal, and the interior of the giant
  picture-like object becomes dull gray once more)  We were likely not in
  danger, but there seemed no need to take a risk.
Kronos:  (having watched the demiplane close in on itself just before the
  planar gateway was closed, he ponders this)  Hmm.
Hope:  (to Belphanior)  See that chest they had with them, the one Otto
  brought back?
Belphanior:  (nods)  What of it?
Hope:  It's from the vault.  It used to be mine, before I contributed it
  to the larger armory.  I'd bet those sacks are also from our stash.

  The elf was about to reply when Irina interjected suddenly, getting
everyone's attention.

Irina:  How can this be?
Parekh:  What is it?
Irina:  They're alive and well, but affected by some kind of paralysis.
  Except they're not breathing.
Kronos:  Stasis.
Irina:  What?
Kronos:  I believe they are in magical stasis, in which they have no need
  of air...or sustenance, for that matter.  There are spells to restore
  victims of such conditions.  (he turns to Belphanior)  Shall I-
Parekh:  I'll handle it.  I have experience with this sort of magic.
Belphanior:  (nods)

  Despite being confident - she was, after all, an archmage of surpassing
power - Parekh was careful and deliberate with her spellcasting now.  She
cared a great deal for Neera, who had been her ward for many years before
joining Belphanior; there was no room for mistakes.  A few tense moments
later, as the magic took effect...Neera twitched, then blinked...and then

Neera:  Aie!  (she collapses, but Belphanior is there to hold her)
Belphanior:  It's okay.  You're safe now.
Neera:  What?  (she looks around wildly)  Then...then it worked.
Parekh:  (quietly)  I'll do the same for the other two.
Belphanior:  (nods to her)  Thank you.

  In short order, all three of their companions were breathing and talking
normally, and the entire group moved out of the planar gateway chamber and
into another that had enough seating for everyone.  Thusly situated, the
reunited group (and the other wizards present) was able to have an actual that was long overdue and would answer some questions
and solve some mysteries.

Neera: was almost a year after all of you left and didn't return.
  I spent half a year trying to figure out where you were, and how to
  contact you...but eventually gave up and turned to other pursuits.
  (she sighs)  One of which was continuing to inventory and study the
  treasures in the vault.
Parekh:  Vault?
Belphanior:  Long story, and irrelevant now.  I'll explain another time.
Neera:  (ignoring the banter)  But then the world erupted into war, and
  that was worth keeping an eye on.  (she shakes her head)  I can hardly
  believe that almost five years passed while you were away...meaning we
  were frozen in that demiplane for basically four years.
Arusha:  (blinks, still having trouble coming to grips with this)
Judhon:  You have to understand...for us, it was just a very short time
  ago...all that happened in the vault.
Neera:  (sighs)
Belphanior:  I'm sorry.  Our destination, the Center of Time...its very
  nature meant that much less time passed for us there, compared to back
  here.  (he glances at Kronos)  Which was certainly a most unfortunate
  side effect of that little jaunt.
Kronos:  (evenly)  Although we did rid the world of the Crimson Blades,
  not to mention preventing them from potentially altering history.
Belphanior:  There is that.
Neera:  Anyhow, the war had barely started when someone appeared outside
  of the vault.  Appeared...and began working their way through its many
Belphanior:  How can that be?  I thought the dragon's warding magic was
Neera:  It may have been, but remember that the vault was damaged, early
  on.  I can't say exactly what went wrong, but I'd venture that somehow,
  the defenses were breached...maybe just barely, but with a magical
  hoard of that size and power, even a tiny crack in the wards could make
  the place detectable to those with enough ability.  And someone did,
  and then showed up to plunder it.  (she frowns)  At least, that's my
  working theory.
Belphanior:  (thinking back to when they first tried to remove treasure
  from the underground complex, and caused it to nearly collapse upon
  itself, he wonders if there was resulting damage that went unnoticed
  and unrepaired)  Damn.
Neera:  The good news was that we knew someone was out there right away,
  and it took them a while to get in and make their way down to the vault
  itself.  By the time they did, we were gone.
Belphanior:  Gone?  How?
Neera:  With the defenses cracked and eventually broken, we were faced
  with a simple choice, and one we had to make quickly...fight or flee.
  I figured that anyone powerful enough to find the vault, and then break
  through its defenses, would almost certainly defeat the three of us in
  battle.  (she lowers her head sadly)  I'm sorry.
Belphanior:  Nonsense.  It was the right decision.
Neera:  Once we realized we had to leave, teleporting out of the vault was
  easy, since the barriers were already weakened, and being broken down
  further with each passing moment.  The real challenge was finding a
  safe destination, one where we wouldn't - couldn't - be tracked by the
  intruders.  Again, someone powerful enough to get as far as they did
  likely had the means to pursue us.  So fleeing elsewhere on Oerth was
  out of the question.  Fortunately, I'd come across multiple spells and
  lore during all my time studying the library's contents.  Unfortunately,
  there had been no opportunity to test any of that new and potent planar
  magic.  (she shrugs)  Long story short, I transported us to a new and
  unique pocket plane that I created as part of the spellcasting.
Pallin:  Yet the three of you were in some sort of stasis after that trip.
Neera:  And I have no idea why.  An incomplete spell formula?  An error
  in the casting?  Some quirk of the planar travel?  We may never know.
Belphanior:  That main thing is that you're safe.  (his jaw tightens)
  Which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for whoever plundered the
  vault, when we find them.
Neera:  So...I'm guessing the vault is now empty?
Belphanior:  (clenches one fist)  Completely cleaned out...a total loss.
Neera:  (shakes her head)  Not total.  (she gestures to the small iron
  chest, the two backpacks, and the four bags that lie to one side, where
  Ys piled them when he carried them into this chamber)
Belphanior:  (feeling a glimmer of hope)  Explain.
Neera:  Long before the intruders came, I'd been thinking about the best
  contingency plan in case something like that ever happened.  I checked
  the capacity of all the magical containers we had - the bags of holding
  and the backpack and haversack, the small chest, and most of all the
  portable hole.  Any items of significance that we weren't using were
  packed away in one of those, in case we ever had to leave in a hurry.
  The things we _were_ using were kept close at hand so that we could
  take them quickly if needed.  (she thinks back to their hasty flight
  from the vault, which to her was only a few minutes ago, and shakes her
  head yet again)  Amazing.
Skektek:  So let me get this're saying that our best magical
  items from the vault are in those sacks and packs over there?
Neera:  Correct, along with the more useful and interesting tomes and-
Skektek:  (pumps his fist in the air)  Yes!
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly, looking Neera in the eye)  Gods bless you.
  (he nods to Arusha and Judhon as well)  Thanks to you three, we may yet
  have salvaged something from this fiasco.

next:       a reunion of sorts
released:   4/29/2022
notes:      This was the necessary catching-up-and-synchronizing episode,
  whose real purpose was to tie past events to the present time, and get
  everyone reunited and on the same page, so to speak.  With that done,
  it's now time to proceed with the next steps:  taking revenge on those
  who attacked the vault, reclaiming the lost treasures, checking in on
  other ex-Adventurers and their fates after the wars, and finding a new
  base of operations (or repairing the vault, although if my house got
  targeted and robbed, I wouldn't want to live there anymore).

    Hmm...five episodes in one month, because there were five Fridays
  that month.  It's a coincidence that I chose this particular month to
  start releasing new stories, but it's still somehow cool.

    By the way, I realize that I've used the terms "world", "dimension",
  and "plane" fairly interchangeably in recent episodes.  It can't be
  helped.  Worrying about this quickly became tedious, so I just stopped.

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