Chapter #1122

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      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!                                          +
+   Date:          4/22/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          midday                                                 +
+   Place:         the shores of Midbay, east and north of Greyhawk       +
+   Climate:       cool                                                   +
+   "You can never solve a problem with the same kind of thinking         +
+    that created the problem in the first place."                        +
+                  - Albert Einstein                                      +

                   MCXXII.  The Circle Weighs In

  Almost a full day had passed since Tenser had played host to the four
wizards, heard their general intentions, and decided to join forces with
them in a plan that, while insane to some, was also something he very much
wanted and needed to participate in.  Although two years had passed since
the treachery of his former friend and ally Rary, that betrayal still
burned fresh in Tenser's mind.  Worse, that had been the _second_ time in
three years that Tenser had perished and then been returned to life via
the use of magical clones.  Aside from the vast amount of time and effort
that went into such an endeavor, there was also the aspect of feeling that
you were not really yourself afterward.  The simple fact was that, for
better or worse, the body Tenser now inhabited was not the one in which he
had been born - and it never would be.
  Still, it certainly beat the alternative.

Tenser:  (sitting in a comfortable leather chair within a small office,
  he works at a desk, whistling as he finalizes the list of troops that
  he'll bring to bear for the upcoming assault)

  The wizard had never been one for revenge, or even violent action...but
all that had changed after the surprise plot and attack two years ago, on
the day of the signing of the great peace treaty.  The shocking and lethal
events of that infamous morning had sidelined Tenser for a full year, his
clone being found and corrupted by evil forces.  Even now, he struggled to
keep from dwelling on his forced servitude to the cruel demon Tuerny and
his ally, the witch-queen Iggwilv.  And all of this, he blamed on Rary's
betrayal.  No, an attack on that backstabbing old bastard had been all but
inevitable, something Tenser had been pondering for several months after
regaining his fortress and rebuilding his strength.  The arrival of the
once-mad but always-dangerous elf and his allies - who had the same basic
plan that Tenser already meant to undertake - was a stroke of luck.  Or
perhaps fate.  Either way, a larger and more powerful force meant a much
greater chance of success against Rary...and for that, Tenser didn't much
care who his allies would be.  Only the end result mattered.
  His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door of his study.  He
waved a hand, causing the door to open silently, admitting his most loyal
follower, the sylvan elf Cymria.

Cymria:  My liege...there is a message for you.  (she holds up a sealed
  roll of parchment)  I've already checked the thing for magic and traps,
  of course-
Tenser:  (nods)  So who delivered it?
Cymria:  A messenger, likely from the Free City given his garb.  He told
  the guardsmen that he had no need of a response, but was simply told to
  deliver the message.
Tenser:  (takes the rolled paper)  Let's see what this is all about.

  The blue-robed archmage already had a feeling he knew the answer, and
the source of the message; this suspicion was borne out as he unrolled
the parchment.  Its message was both simple and vague...

Tenser:  (shows the unrolled paper to the elf)
Cymria:  What's this?  "We must talk.    -M"  (she shakes her head)  The
  Circle of Eight?
Tenser:  This is what he does...this is how he contacts you when he wants
  something and you're not a member.  Believe me, I saw it happen many
  times over the years.  (he sighs)  I suppose I'll go to Greyhawk.
Cymria:  You don't have to dance to this tune, you know.  Why not simply
  ignore the summons?
Tenser:  I can't.  Given the timing, I have to assume they know something
  about what's about to happen.  I need to deal with this.
Cymria:  Understood, but you could speak with them here...let them come
  to you.
Tenser:  (shaking his head)  No.  This tower, this fortress, has always
  been my escape from them, my own place.  I would never admit them into
  my home unless absolutely necessary.  Especially some of the new ones,
  the...replacements.  (he begins collecting a few random items)  I'll
  just get what I need and be on my way.
Cymria:  Shall I accompany you?
Tenser:  Thanks, but I doubt he wants to talk to anyone but me.  (he hands
  her the list he's been working on all morning)  These are the various
  forces I wish to involve in the upcoming battle.  If you could contact
  them and have them prepare...or in the case of those not already in my
  employ, gather them.  None are further than a few hours' ride from here.
  Don't tell them exactly what we're doing, just that we will go forth yet
  again to fight evil.
Cymria:  (reviewing the list, she nods)  I'll take care of it.  You can
  count on me.
Tenser:  I always can, and for that I thank you.  (he walks over to one
  corner of the room, retrieving a small, rolled-up carpet)

  In short order, the archmage was soaring through the skies overhead, on
a direct course for the Free City.  This was not as odd a sight as one
might think; the city and surrounding area were home to a large quantity
of wizards, heroes, adventurers, and other such individuals...and given
the region's lack of direct involvement in the recent wars and associated
fighting, people were able to do as they pleased.  Of course, Tenser had
no intention of flying directly over the city's walls - such a method of
travel would surely be noticed, and attention then drawn to him - but his
enchanted carpet would get him to Greyhawk.  From there, he would stow it
by magical means and then enter the city like any normal person.
  Except Tenser was far from normal.  Even in his current state - weary
from the trials and tribulations of recent years, and with an inventory
of magical items far depleted from times past - he remained one of the
more powerful wizards in the Flanaess.  He had been so, and been in the
Free City, long enough that he was well-known and commanded a great deal
of respect.  Accordingly, he experienced no delays or other issues making
his way into the High Quarter, seeking out a certain nondescript tower
which he had visited many times in the last decade.  This plain-looking
structure, nestled between the homes of several wealthy nobles, was
privately-owned and much more than what it appeared to be:  a simple,
squarish building with several floors, few windows, and a stout oaken
door at street level.
  In actuality, this unobtrusive tower was the meeting place and sometimes
quarters of members of the Circle of Eight, whenever they had business
in Greyhawk.  Its windows were false, clever works of physical and magical
deception; the structure was actually completely solid and sealed except
for the single door.  Its walls were three feet thick and lined with lead
and other metals, and then enchanted with mighty magicks.  The end result
was a place that could not be breached by conventional teleportation or
scrying, and would also stand up well against any physical force.  This
tower's sole means of entry and egress was that wide, plain-looking door
of oak, braced with black bands of iron.  This portal was also protected
by numerous and potent enchantments, such that getting through it would
be as much work as simply trying to break through the surrounding wall...
but would attract a lot more attention.
  At any rate, Tenser was expected, and as he reached the stout wooden
door, it swung inward before him, and he strode in as he'd done so many
times before.  Behind him, the door closed as silently and gracefully as
it had opened...and the average person on the street outside would have
had no idea that the door, the tower, the visitor, and the occupants were
all exceptional in nature and power.

Tenser:  (walks through a short entry hallway, complete with hooks for
  coats, cloaks, and hats)

  The interior of the tower was well-lit, thanks to torches mounted in
sconces placed periodically throughout.  These burned with clear, bright
flames that produced no actual heat and never needed to be replenished.
Similarly, the chambers within this place always seemed to be the perfect
temperature - never too warm or too cold - and the entire building had a
clean, neutral smell.  Tenser made his way up a staircase of dark wood,
cut from trees native to the other side of the continent and known for
their exceptional strength and durability.  The tower had three distinct
floors, and the meeting chamber was in the center of the second floor.
As he walked into the room - one of the safest and most secure places in
the Flanaess - Tenser was unsurprised to see that the entire Circle was
here.  The most familiar faces - Bigby, Otto, Nystul, Drawmij, and to a
lesser extent, Jallarzi - greeted him fondly as he entered the chamber,
nodding with the friendship and respect that came from fifteen years of
working together.  The newer members - the aged Alhamazad from the far
West, the gentlemanly Warnes Starcoat, and the stern high elf Theodain -
simply regarded him with varied but generally-unfamiliar expressions.
And at the head of the table sat the great wizard Mordenkainen, presiding
over it all, his thick black beard and mane of dark hair neatly-trimmed
but still impressively regal.

Mordenkainen:  Welcome, friend Tenser.  Please, sit.
Tenser:  (does so)  It's been a while.
Mordenkainen:  Indeed.  How goes your recovery?  It is said that your
  fortress, and the lands nearby, once more bustle with activity.
Tenser:  I'm fine, thanks for asking.  (to Bigby)  How's the research?
  Any luck with the new spells?
Bigby:  (shrugs)  I've been too busy to work on them much...a lot of
  travel, and a lot of diplomacy.
Theodain:  (speaks to all, but glances at Mordenkainen as he does so)  Can
  we get to the point?
Tenser:  Ah, yes.  (he smiles thinly)  What _is_ the point?  What need
  does the Circle of Eight have of a humble ex-member?
Mordenkainen:  (sighs)  You have recently played host to a certain mad -
  or at least slightly deranged - elf, and a couple of his companions.
  Given the identity of said companions, and some others with whom they
  are known to associate and adventure...and the past deeds of some or
  all of these individuals...I feel the need to ask you what is happening
  here.  (he frowns)  Or is about to happen.
Tenser:  Hmmm.  It seems that the protections of my home are not quite
  strong enough.
Mordenkainen:  They are plenty strong.  While many of us have fashioned
  homes or meeting places that are proof against scrying-  (he gestures
  with both hands as his gaze sweeps the chamber in which they all sit)
  -it is generally possible to track the comings and goings of people as
  they travel between such places.
Tenser:  Am I being watched?
Drawmij:  We all are, by someone, I would presume.
Mordenkainen:  No one is "being watched" exactly, but in these hard times,
  it is sometimes necessary to-
Theodain:  (straightens a wrinkle in his fine suit of black and silver
  cloth)  Is someone planning to mount an assault against the renegade
  Rary, in the Bright Desert?
Mordenkainen:  (glares at the elven wizard, sighing audibly before rubbing
  his temples)
Tenser:  You people certainly strive to know all things.  So that's your
  question?  That's why we're meeting today?
Alhamazad:  (strokes his long white beard, which is decorated with clasps
  and beads and all manner of other jewelry)  Certain agents in the area
  have reported activity...although that is not unusual, given all that
  has been happening in the region.
Warnes:  (helpfully)  There is no way that you, or the elf, or any of us
  could begin to gather allies, troops, and the like without such efforts
  being noticed by someone, somewhere.
Otto:  From there, deducing the identity of potential targets is fairly
  simple to do.  (he clasps his pudgy hands together)  Rary was simply
  the most likely one.
Mordenkainen:  (nods to Tenser)  What say you?
Tenser:  (realizes that no matter what, he and his forces will now be
  watched closely, and can't do anything covertly anymore)  Hmph.  Truly
  your collective intellects are dizzying.
Nystul:  If not our powers.
Tenser:  That too.  (he sighs, deciding not to even try to mask the truth
  to this group)  Yes.  I will be considering a move against Rary-
Mordenkainen:  You mean, the elf will.
Theodain:  Speak with caution.  I do not care for the way in which you
  say "the elf."
Mordenkainen:  (struggling internally to maintain his composure, he keeps
  his head for now)  Right.  Apologies.  I meant to say that _Belphanior_
  will be making some sort of move against Rary, it seems.
Tenser:  He might.  It's not certain, and it won't be easy...but if he
  does, I will add my resources to the effort.
Nystul:  Is this wise?  Is it fair?
Tenser:  Rary killed Otiluke, and tried to kill me.  And Bigby.
Bigby:  (angrily)  True.
Tenser:  And he would have killed a lot more people, if we hadn't stopped
  him that day.  So yes, I will back Belphanior's assault on the traitor.
  He may even succeed!  Remember, this is the same person who was at the
  heart of the attack on the Fortress of the Nine...and the vampire city
  of Skava-Ra.
Drawmij:  (nonchalantly)  And the Seven Sleepers...among other formidable
Bigby:  Not to mention, he and his companions stood at our side when the
  great beast from the stars came and threatened Greyhawk.
Theodain:  One individual did all this?  (he nods, impressed)  I should
  like to meet this elf.
Tenser:  Then help us as we seek to overcome Rary and hold him accountable
  for his crimes!  (his voice rises in volume with his excitement)  With
  the power of the Circle added to that of Belphanior and his dark elf
  companions, we would certainly crush Rary and Robilar, no matter what
  forces they have on their side!
Jallarzi:  (nods)  Those villains have much to answer for.  I would most
  certainly condone such an assault.
Bigby:  As would I.
Nystul:  I would not.  We need to get to the bottom of...whatever the hell
  happened on that fateful day almost two years ago.
Tenser:  It's not any sort of great mystery!  Rary didn't like the way
  things were going, he hatched an evil plot, it didn't work out, some of
  us got caught in the crossfire, Otiluke's dead.  (he throws his hands up
  in exasperation)  What more is there to know?!?
Nystul:  We don't know-
Theodain:  Such action would allow the Circle to take a more active role
  in world events, which would be preferable to-
Drawmij:  (looks bored)
Otto:  (looks sad)
Warnes:  Now let's all just calm down a bit and-
Alhamazad:  (strokes his white beard, pondering all of this)
Tenser:  -with you or without you-
Mordenkainen:  ENOUGH.  (he stands, slowly)

  While some of the Circle didn't always agree with everything the black-
bearded archmage said or did, he was still the group's leader, and always
had been through all its incarnations.  When he spoke, they listened...
and when he was upset, they listened more intently.  Now was one of those

Mordenkainen:  Tenser, of all of us, you have the most reason to be angry
  with our former companion.  As a now-non-member of the Circle, by your
  own choice, you are not subject to its decisions...and certainly do not
  require its sanction for any course of action you choose to pursue now.
  (he frowns)  However, the Circle will not join in this endeavor, nor
  lend any resources to it.  There are other matters across the Flanaess
  that require attention.

  Several of the wizards present seemed on the verge of saying something,
but their imposing leader didn't allow an opportunity for such as he
continued to speak in a firm and commanding tone of voice.

Mordenkainen:  Perhaps this will be the final, and ultimate, judgment for
  Rary...or perhaps not.  In the vast saga of the world, those chapters
  have yet to be written.  It seems that you may help to write them, and
  we wish you luck.
Tenser:  (having been on the other side of such speeches as a member, he
  considers himself quite fortunate to have avoided an order to cease and
  desist...particularly because he isn't sure he'd obey such a directive)
  Very well.  (he stands)  As a longtime companion of most of you, and as
  a former member of this group, I want to say that I didn't expect and
  don't need any help here.  I will also add that what's happening right
  now - the choice of inaction, and letting others handle the problems of
  the world - is exactly how it started last time, with Rary.  And in my
  opinion, you'd all do well to remember that Rary's intention on the Day
  of the Great Signing was to kill not only the assembled delegation, but
  also the entire Circle.  He ended up attacking just the three of us...
  only because he had to spring his traps prematurely, once we caught him
  in the act.  (he sighs, shaking his head sadly)  I've borne - and still
  bear - this in mind despite Rary's seeming loss of interest in actually
  completing his plan.  I would also ask you to think about what it will
  mean if this attack succeeds...for yourselves, for Greyhawk, and for the
  Flanaess in general.  I, for one, am certain that my course of action is
  good and just.  (he smiles to himself)  And that's all I need.  Win or or die...I know in my heart and soul that this is the right
  thing to do.

  With that, the archmage and former Circle member turned and silently
walked out of the room, then the tower, and eventually the Free City.

next:       it begins
released:   8/26/2022
notes:      This episode's conversation had to happen.  As much as I've
  disparaged the Circle of Eight in recent episodes - for sometimes being
  too slow or ineffective, for pushing things more toward neutrality, or
  whatever - it's damn near impossible that they wouldn't have figured out
  that something's going on.  Rather than get into the details of exactly
  how they did that, I instead focused on what it meant for them, and what
  they might do.
    I tried to put myself in Tenser's shoes for this meeting, and thought
  of it like a return to an old workplace, years after quitting due to the
  actions of the big boss, but still having to be civil, and having others
  in the room who were good friends and co-workers...but also being able
  to have a bit of an attitude because you don't work there anymore.
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