previous chapter (#1119)
next chapter (#1121)
+ THE ADVENTURERS +
+ Epic VI +
+ 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 +
+ Neera 12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer) +
+ Alindyar 18th level dark elven wizard +
+ Lyra 14th level female dark elven wizard +
+ Date: 4/21/586 C.Y. (Common Year) +
+ Time: late afternoon +
+ Place: the shores of Midbay, east and north of Greyhawk +
+ Climate: cool and pleasant +
+ "I have experience...and patience. A man can do anything if he +
+ has those." +
+ - from _Captain America: Civil War_ +
MCXX. Tenser Revisited
After momentous events earlier in the day, Belphanior, Neera, and the
drow have ventured to the southern reaches of the Nyr Dyv...specifically
the area known as Midbay, and more specifically, the quiet settlement of
Magepoint. A few hours' ride east (and a bit north) of Greyhawk, this
small village marks the connecting point between the land's northern shore
and the Fortress of Unknown Depths which rises from the lake's waters,
several thousand feet out from the shoreline.
Neera: So _that's_ the Fortress of Unknown Depths.
Alindyar: (nods) The home of Tenser.
Neera: (eyeing the distant pale blue structure, which rests atop a flat
black slab of rock amidst the water)
Belphanior: Although I've had several past dealings with the wizard...
I've never actually been here, much less in the place.
Lyra: Few have.
The castle's footprint was fairly small - its dark rocky base wasn't
even two hundred feet across - but it appeared formidable even from a
distance. Its outer walls were perhaps fifty feet in height; the handful
of towers within were roughly twice as high, save for the larger central
tower, which rose nearly three hundred feet into the sky; this structure
was topped with a bluish-green crystalline dome. There was not a single
window visible anywhere in the walls and towers of the fortress...and even
more strangely, every stone of every tower or wall was identical in both
texture and color: smooth and pale blue.
Neera: He likes blue, I'm guessing.
Belphanior: That he does. (he points to a narrow walkway connecting the
shore and the castle's wide gatehouse in the distance) I suppose that
pathway is how guests enter the castle.
Alindyar: Aye...if they are welcome.
The land bridge appeared man-made, as it was fairly level along its top
(not to mention perfectly straight for its entire length). It seemed to
be fashioned from a single piece of rock, which was black and probably
volcanic in nature. While quite wide where its base met the water thirty
feet below, the causeway was alarmingly narrow at its topmost surface,
barely wide enough for a single person to walk safely.
Alindyar: And safety during such a walk is important, for the waters to
either side of that pathway are not only dark, but deep...unusually so.
There is no telling what strange and monstrous things lurk under the
Lyra: It would not be prudent to walk along that narrow stone pathway.
Neera: (notices a number of rather large predatory birds soaring in the
Belphanior: It wouldn't surprise me if those things somehow serve Tenser.
There's probably not much around here that he doesn't control.
Alindyar: No doubt.
Twin stone gatehouses - forty feet square and also fashioned of the same
pale blue stone - flanked the entry point onto the long, strange walkway.
The outer edge of the village of Magepoint was close, several hundred feet
from these gatehouses. Not only were there heavily armed guards manning
both posts, but some of those in the settlement had also taken notice of
the visitors. These people appeared to be farmers, but were notably stout
of build and serious in nature...as if all of them had some experience at
battle, perhaps. A couple of burly dwarves could be seen amidst all the
humans; one carried a number of metal bars over one shoulder, while the
other pulled a small wheeled cart full of firewood.
While no one had yet ventured forth to meet the quartet of adventurers,
they figured it was only a matter of time.
Neera: (points to the fortress, where a small glowing blue object has
appeared in the sky, rapidly moving in their direction) What's that?
Belphanior: (scanning the thing with his enchanted crystal eye) Looks
like a person...a flying person. Given the blue glow and our location,
I'm fairly certain it's Tenser.
Alindyar: Agreed. Likely, he noticed our presence in the area near his
home, and emerged to greet us personally.
Belphanior: Good. No need to waste time.
While the elf casually kept one hand near his sword's pommel, he wasn't
overly concerned. While the powerful wizard and former member of the
vaunted Circle of Eight had been through a lot in recent years, he and
Belphanior had always been on good terms. More, the latter had not in any
way been responsible for, or involved with, any of those events. In fact,
he hadn't even seen Tenser in a decade. Better still, the drow were here;
as Alindyar had mentioned a few hours before, the two of them had dealt
with the wizard more than any others from the old adventuring group. Any
words Belphanior might have for Tenser would carry more weight with the
pair of dark elves present.
Belphanior: (watches as the glowing figure sails down from above, landing
gently on the grassy plain) Tenser.
The other wizard looked much as Belphanior remembered him: about sixty
years old, almost six feet tall, and thin. He was far from muscular, but
was trim and healthy. His curly hair, which had once been brown, was now
streaked with gray, and new wrinkles lined his face, particularly around
his eyes. The man was garbed in light blue robes which bore his crest, a
thin scimitar within a pointed shield.
Alindyar: Well met, my friend.
Tenser: (nods to Alindyar, and then Lyra) Likewise. (he then regards
Belphanior) It's been a while.
Belphanior: It has. I hope you're well.
Tenser: (winces, muttering in a low voice) I'm as well as I can be...for
one who's perished twice in a five-year span, not to mention also been
transformed into a minor demon and seen his home invaded and looted by
foes. (he shakes his head, as if to suddenly dispel those bad memories,
and speaks more loudly) But enough about that. What brings you to my
Alindyar: Perhaps we should talk in a more...secure place.
Tenser: (glancing at the people of Magepoint) They can't hear us- Oh.
(he nods, and quickly makes some arcane gestures, opening a shimmering
sapphire portal nearby, beyond which a large indoor chamber is visible)
If you'll follow me. (he walks into the thing, vanishing from their
presence and appearing in the room)
Neera: I guess we won't be taking that long, narrow stone walkway today.
Presently, the four companions had followed the archmage, joining him
in a large circular room that was sixty feet across with a thirty-foot
domed ceiling. To the south were a pair of massive, closed iron doors; to
the west and east were walled-off spiral staircases that led upward and
downward respectively. Thick pillars of blue crystal lined the southern
half of the room, and its walls were tiled with various shades of blue,
forming a neat, geometric mosaic that seemed to point to the ornate throne
at the northern end of the chamber. This impressive seat was fashioned
from a single polished piece of lapis lazuli, and rested atop a low dais.
Purplish-blue curtains covered the wall behind it, and braziers of azure
metal rested to either side. Behind each of these was a gigantic statue
of blue-tinged marble; one depicted a man, the other a woman.
Tenser: (takes a seat in his throne, surveying the huge room proudly)
This is my Hall of Magic.
Belphanior: (nods) Impressive.
Neera: If you don't mind me asking, did you build this castle?
Tenser: I did not. It predates me by a long while...it's at least eight
centuries old, constructed in the early days of Aerdian expansion across
the continent. I have unearthed some of its history, and events that
happened in or around it, but those are tales for another time, I think.
(he regards Belphanior, and then Alindyar) Why have you sought me out?
Alindyar: (turns to Belphanior, as if to ask a question)
Belphanior: I'll handle this.
With that, the elf conveyed recent events to Tenser. His account was
quick and efficient, though he omitted the part about exactly who would
help with the Rary situation and anything that happened afterward.
Tenser: (rubs his chin thoughtfully) So you missed the wars, and had
your treasure hoard stolen by Rary the Traitor? (he frowns) Sadly, I
know that feeling well. (he regards the elf) And now you seek my
counsel on what to do, and how best to do it?
Belphanior: That's about it. I wasn't sure how the Circle of Eight might
react to my plans.
Tenser: (takes a deep breath, then exhales slowly) Most likely...they
wouldn't react at all. As you no doubt are aware by now, I have severed
ties with that group...and that's not something I did lightly, given my
nearly quarter-century-long involvement with some of them - first as a
member of Mordenkainen's Citadel of Eight, and then as a member of the
Circle of Eight itself. However, being slain twice brought me a new
perspective on the group and their leader. (he sighs) I soon came to
realize that Mordenkainen's desire for balance - not good, not evil,
but something in-between - no longer made sense to me.
Belphanior: The concept of balance is an interesting one...but also quite
a double-edged sword.
Tenser: (clenches his jaw) And that sword can be very sharp indeed. (he
leans back in his stone chair, crossing his arms) But, as in all such
things, there is the return blow to consider as well.
Tenser: I have spent the bulk of the last year regaining my stolen wealth
and other treasures, rebuilding my intelligence network, and marshaling
my forces. All of those efforts lead to one goal: the defeat and utter
destruction of my greatest enemies. (angrily) Those would be Rary and
Iuz. Neither will be easy, but it would make sense to deal with Rary
first. (he leans forward in the throne) Unfortunately, I'm not quite
ready just yet. (he points to Belphanior) Fortunately, you seem to be,
which is good enough.
Belphanior: (thinking about how to best utilize the other's desire for
Tenser: (sits back once more, crossing his legs) So...how can I help?
Belphanior: (cracks his knuckles) Information. We need information...
about Rary, where he is, what he's doing, his current endeavors as well
as his past motivations. Anything that might help us figure out how he
operates, what he wants, why he has done the things he's done.
Tenser: (frowns, then nods) I'll tell you what I know. Rary wasn't
always a treacherous, murderous villain. He didn't just wake up one day
and decide to try and kill everyone at the Great Signing. No, his plans
were made and set up well ahead of that. Think about it: right after
he killed Otiluke and me, his various allies were already at our homes,
to plunder our wealth while ensuring that any magical means of returning
was eliminated. Not to mention that Rary then moved his own tower - an
entire magical building, mind you - from its location in faraway Ket
into the arid wastelands of the Bright Desert.
Alindyar: And you know where he now lairs, within that region?
Tenser: (darkly) You'd better believe it.
Belphanior: (smiles thinly) Good.
Tenser: I've employed scouts and spies to venture to that region...learn
what they can. It's a dangerous game, and some of them never returned,
but I've learned some useful things that I can share.
Lyra: And what of his motivations? Why did he strive to destroy all the
delegations in the first place?
Tenser: (spreads his hands) Impatience coupled with ambition, as best as
I can tell. He was often unhappy with the pace at which things got done
by our group - when they actually got done - and signs indicate that he
started to study the methods and actions of certain evildoers...Iuz, and
the mad Overking in Aerdy, and perhaps even the agents of the Scarlet
Brotherhood. Somehow, some way, he decided that more...radical tactics
were needed to bring order and peace to the world.
Belphanior: I can sympathize - to an extent. But you don't just turn on
your friends like he did.
Tenser: To be fair, he never really liked Otiluke, and they often traded
verbal barbs in conversation. (he shakes his head) I know Otiluke was
kind of an ass sometimes, but he deserved a better fate. And he died
after stepping in when I fell.
Belphanior: (thinking about Ged, and Rob, his eyes narrow) I know _that_
Tenser: It's a terrible memory, one which I have to live with every day.
Lyra: (frowns, sadly)
Belphanior: It's too bad that Rary and Iuz aren't allied...because then
we could kill them both at once.
Alindyar: Or we could try.
Belphanior: Trust me, I'd succeed, or die trying.
Alindyar: Aye, that you would, I have no doubt.
Tenser: Those two evil ones will never work together - never. Rary's
chief lieutenant, the renegade lord Robilar, is a sworn enemy of Iuz.
If it came to conflict, Rary's presence wouldn't cause the demonoid to
hesitate for even a moment.
Belphanior: Well, that settles that.
Tenser: Indeed it does. (he smiles grimly) So, when do we start?
Neera: (blinks in surprise)
Tenser: The planning and execution of the assault on Rary...when do we
Tenser: Surely you didn't think I'd share all of that information - and
that which I have yet to share - without being involved, without being
part of the attacking force? (he looks around at each of them) I have
a score to settle with the Archmage of Ket...and I shall not be excluded
from this endeavor!
Belphanior: (thinking quickly) Well, of course not. I just didn't think
you'd be ready to join the attack this soon.
Tenser: (frowns) I would have taken action already - gods know, I want
to - but rebuilding one's forces from nothing takes a while. But joined
with yours...together, we can pursue this sooner.
Belphanior: The sooner, the better.
Lyra: (ESPing to Alindyar) We may have a problem here. Knowing Tenser,
his forces consist of those similarly aligned with law and good. If he
has little or no tolerance for allies who think and act differently...
then this partnership won't work out.
Alindyar: (ESPing to Lyra) Agreed. We need to regain control of this
Tenser: (regarding the dark elves curiously, sensing that something is
amiss but unable to determine precisely what it is)
Alindyar: Friend Tenser...we are well aware that you have always leaned
strongly toward the side of Good, and would expect the same of your
allies. However, you must realize that by joining us, some of those
new allies thus gained may not measure up to your particular standards.
Belphanior: (having not considered this potential problem, he frowns)
Alindyar: We have the manpower - and other forms of power, to be sure -
needed to challenge Rary. But that force will not resemble the one you
might have assembled on your own. If this will be an issue...?
The dark elf's serious expression matched his words; he was not starting
a debate or conflict, simply stating a concern that needed to be known to
all present. Fortunately, their host's answer proved that he had more of
an open mind than might have been the case years ago.
Tenser: I understand. While I would prefer to build my own army, and
then deploy it my way...I am not quite at that point. If an attack is
to be made sooner-
Belphanior: (grimly) It is.
Tenser: -then I want to lend my full support to it. (he extends his
spread hands in a gesture of compromise) Worry not about ideologies,
and whether they clash slightly. The goal is the same, and we shall
Lyra: (ESPing to Alindyar) Well done.
Tenser: (suddenly looking worried) But this assumes we're not building
an army of demons, or something like that...?
Belphanior: No. (he smiles thinly) Rest assured, such days - while
they were interesting - are behind me.
Neera: (helpfully) Golems, maybe. Mercenaries, probably. But not
Tenser: Glad to hear it. (he rubs his chin thoughtfully) So, if you
don't mind my asking, what sort of troops and allies do you plan to
bring to bear for this endeavor?
Belphanior: You'll see before we start, but I promise you...our forces
are strong, both in quantity and in power.
Tenser: (thinking about Rary) How strong?
Belphanior: (knowing that he can't give away the involvement of Parekh
and the others, at least not without discussing it with them first, he
smiles grimly) Substantial.
Tenser: I see. And I'm looking forward to seeing more. (he steeples
his fingers, thinking about what's being set in motion, and also about
finally getting some long-awaited revenge on Rary and his allies) So
what's the next move here?
Belphanior: I'll need some time to come up with a plan - but first I'll
need to know everything about Rary - his current location, his forces,
what he's up to...everything you haven't yet detailed for us.
Tenser: Oh. (he frowns) Is that all?
Belphanior: Not hardly. We'll also need a thorough study and history
of the Bright Desert, specifically the region in which he now dwells.
Not to mention knowledge of the local inhabitants, any not already
under his rule. Even if they're humanoids, or giants, or such. Any
foes of his are potential allies of ours.
Belphanior: Don't worry. We're not going to take the information and
then leave you out of this.
Tenser: (thinking of Rary's treachery, and all that it led to, he rolls
his eyes) Just try.
Belphanior: Share your knowledge, then give me a few days to plan and
prepare. In the meantime, you can marshal whatever forces you wish
to contribute. When we're ready, we'll regroup, finalize the plan,
and then execute it. (he smiles thinly) Along with Rary.
Tenser: (smacks one fist down hard, upon the arm of his stone throne)
Outstanding! (he winces, clenching and unclenching the hand) Ouch.
In short order, the blue-garbed wizard had one of his minions retrieve
some maps and a scroll tube full of notes.
female elf: (returns, her arms full of these documents, and then puts
them down on a wooden table that wasn't there a few moments ago.)
Tenser: Thank you, Cymria. (to his guests) Cymria is one of my oldest
and most loyal followers. Not only did she watch this fortress and its
environs while I was...away, but she has also coordinated the bulk of
my intelligence-gathering. She will help me lay the situation out for
The woman was tall for an elf (though not as tall as Belphanior) and
lean, her appearance almost predatory. It was apparent that she was all
business, someone who got things done and had a low tolerance for nonsense
Cymria: South of this region, through the Cairn Hills and the Mistmarsh,
lies the Abbor-Alz range of hills. Beyond those is the wasteland known
as the Bright Desert - at whose heart can be found a small region of yet
more hills. Those are the Brass Hills, and that's where Rary moved his
Belphanior: I've heard of that desert. It's said to be a harsh, deadly
place...burning hot, with little water and endless dunes of sand.
Cymria: (nods) Indeed it is. More than one caravan or military force
has ventured into the desert, over the years, and never been seen again.
And that was _before_ Rary moved there and began consolidating his power.
Alindyar: He cannot have had time to consolidate it much. It has only
been a year.
Tenser: Exactly. My scouts and spies - none of whom know that they're
working for me, since I use multiple intermediaries as well as powerful
magical means of masking things - have reported that Rary and his ally
and general, Robilar, have won over some of the desert tribes. Some,
but not all.
Cymria: And there are several tribes of wild centaurs in there too...word
is, they want nothing to do with the new arrivals, and would prefer that
Belphanior: Good...potential allies. We might be able to use that.
Tenser: The desert also teems with strange and monstrous scorpions, and
scorpion-man hybrids, and worse. Those things ally with, and answer to,
Cymria: (points out some other points marked on the map) There are a
number of active forts and oases in the desert, as well as more than one
Neera: (eyeing the map) It is odd to have a desert of this sort, given
the surrounding terrain.
Tenser: That's because the desert is said to be unnatural...the result of
an ancient curse that fell upon an ancient king. And this is likely the
explanation for Rary's choice of his new home. Legends tell of a lost
artifact that can command the people and monsters of the desert...and
almost since he arrived, Rary had been looking for something, sending
exploratory parties to find those buried ruins and then delve into their
Cymria: It seems that he's had no luck so far - except for recovering
lost gold and such - but he's persistent, and has the resources to back
these expeditions...and he's running out of ruins. If the thing he seeks
is under that desert, he's going to find it eventually, perhaps sooner
rather than later.
Neera: The Scorpion Crown. That's what he's after.
Cymria: (gives her a sharp look, then turns to Tenser)
Tenser: Hmm. Young lady, your knowledge of lore is extraordinary. What
do you know of that item?
Neera: I think I read a bit about it once. When you mentioned an ancient
curse and king just now, it came back to me. The story goes that long
ago, the Bright Desert was a lush, fertile grassland...until ruined by
the hubris and ambition of that kingdom's last ruler, who dared to seek
power beyond what mortals were meant to have. He was given the Scorpion
Crown, but it was a jest from whatever dark gods he had dealt with. The
land was rendered dry and barren, while the monarch and all of his people
were changed into horrible, deadly monsters. (she frowns) At least, so
goes the story.
Alindyar: Then why would Rary want that crown?
Tenser: Because of his ego. Trust me here...I've known him for a long
time. He assumes that he has the wisdom, and the power, to actually use
the crown to strengthen his position and rulership of the desert lands.
(bitterly) Much like he thought to use the methods and tactics of the
Flanaess' hostile and evil rulers to make things right...and in doing
so, became evil like them.
Lyra: Is that how it happened? One rumor I heard was that the change in
him was caused by some evil symbol, perhaps of a demon-
Tenser: Bah! That's pure hogwash. I'm sure at least one of the Circle
of Eight would like to think that - it shifts the blame away from them,
from the way they operate, and from their oversights. (he glowers, his
face angry now) No. I knew Rary for many years, worked alongside him
for a long time, and in retrospect, it is obvious. He felt that current
ways of thinking and acting weren't accomplishing enough, and he sought
out others instead...ones that were causing real, if violent, change
across the world. (having calmed down somewhat, he shrugs, sighing)
That's what happened, nothing more. There's no need to complicate it.
Belphanior: So what would he plan to do if or when he found the Scorpion
Cymria: Our best guess is that he thinks he can use the artifact to rule
the desert, and all its people and creatures, once and for all. While
we have no idea exactly what the crown's powers are, they must be great
indeed, considering that the last time they were invoked, the one doing
so vanished from history, his empire fell, and the entire region became
a harsh, arid wasteland.
Belphanior: (shaking his head) Sounds to me like that ancient ruler made
some sort of mistake when he tried to use the crown.
Cymria: Perhaps his mistake _was_ trying to use it. Legends say that the
gods he appealed to were dark...evil.
Neera: And now Rary wants to find this thing and use it to further his
Lyra: What pride.
Tenser: Rary's power fuels his pride. He's tackled other challenges in
the past, and triumphed. He doubtless thinks he can harness and control
the artifact - assuming he can find it.
Neera: It sounds like he will find it, eventually. And that he's been at
this for a while.
Alindyar: (frowns) He must have learned about the Crown years ago, and
then made his plans...slowly and deliberately.
Tenser: (looking around) Well done, all of you! I'd forgotten what it
was like to have friends and allies as intelligent, as quick to put such
things together as I am. (to Cymria) This could work...our best chance
to strike back at Rary, to deal with him once and for all.
Cymria: Aye. (she regards the four adventurers with a newfound respect)
Belphanior: (nods) I think I've heard enough. As I said, I must now go
and think over all this...ponder and plan, until I come up with the best
strategy for this.
Tenser: That's fine, but you should make haste if you can. Rary surely
has spies of his own, and the longer we wait to move, the greater the
chance someone gets wind of this plan.
Belphanior: I understand. Shall we say...three days?
Tenser: Fair enough. Cymria will show you to the portal out of here. We
will spend the time preparing and marshaling our own forces, and when
the time comes...we'll be ready.
next: Belphanior brings all of this back to the others
notes: Tenser has a fairly lengthy and involved history with the
adventurers. He has helped Peldor recover Bosco's soul, worked with
Riggby to somehow transform the dying tiger Zephyr into a magical
figurine for Halbarad, transported the party to the Isle of the Ape,
later helped grill the two drow about the loss of the Wand of Orcus,
contributed some fireworks to a celebration in Greyhawk, and helped
the Circle of Eight assess the Xusia situation before that preemptive
strike. Of the past and present members of the Circle, he's definitely
one of the closest to the party. And I leveraged that history for this
The only official published rendition of Tenser's fortress can be
found in the 1998 accessory "Return of the Eight." This thing's plot
isn't perfect (it's got quite a bit of railroading to keep the player
characters on track within a linear series of events) but it does bridge
the gap between the depleted Circle of Five and the all-new Circle of
Eight...it contains several major evil villains (Iggwilv, Tuerny, and
indirectly, Iuz)...and again, it has a fully-fleshed out fortress/home
for Tenser. Naturally, I had to do a little modifying and updating for
On another note, it's likely that Neera has a photographic memory, at
least when it comes to things she's read.
previous chapter (#1119)
next chapter (#1121)