Chapter #1132

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                                   +   +
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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       +
+   1991-2024 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!                                          +
+   Kronos         ancient lich wizard                                    +
+   Pallin         18th level grey elven wizard of Celestian, teleporter  +
+     Socrates     large albino hound                                     +
+   Parekh         18th level female human wizard, innovator              +
+     Drak         15th level human barbarian                             +
+   Date:          6/4/586 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          dusk                                                   +
+   Place:         a not-so-random spot within the Bright Desert          +
+   Climate:       hot and dry                                            +
+   "I'm not that old.  I've just been here a very long time."            +
+                  - Elmer Hill, 12/14/13 (aged 107, lived 1906-2015)     +

                   MCXXXII.  The Secret of the Tower of Sleep

  After three of the alliance of wizards tracked past appearances of a
mysterious moving tower - and then predicted its next appearance - their
efforts have been rewarded.

Drak:  (staring in awe at the spire of white stone which now looms over
  them)  Well, I'll be damned.
Kronos:  Time will tell.  (he strides toward the tower, which is several
  hundred feet distant and still surrounded by vaguely shimmering air)
Parekh:  Wait, you can't just-  (she walks after him)  If the tales hold
  true, that thing is protected by mighty magicks.
Kronos:  I know.  And I do not intend to fall victim to them.  (he stops,
  turning to the brown-skinned sorceress)  We already discussed this.  I
  cannot fall prey to any sort of sleep or similar magic, but the rest of
  you can.  Which is precisely why I want you to remain here.
Parekh:  But you might need help-
Kronos:  And if so, you and the others are best positioned to offer it
  from outside the tower.  But I plan to return, and soon.
Drak:  (hefts his giant mallet, unsure what to do)
Parekh:  (gestures to the dozen skeletal warriors that follow the lich)
  What about them?
Kronos:  They shall accompany me.  These are no common skeletons; each
  was a skilled warrior in life, and that skill carried over afterward.
  Their armor is of high quality, as are their swords.  (he turns and
  resumes his advance toward the tower)  Remain here, and have patience.
skeletal warriors:  (follow their master, marching in step)
Drak:  That's crazy, eh?
Parekh:  (sighs)  If we lose Kronos and his power...
Drak:  I'm sure he'll be fine.  We've all seen what he can do.
Pallin:  (joins them, as does his pale hound)  Drak speaks the truth.
  Whatever lies within that stone spire - be it a haunted spirit, some
  undead lord, or even something else - it will have no easy time if it
  chooses to do battle with Kronos.
Drak:  (nods, then frowns)  So...what _will_ we do if the lich never
  comes back out of there?
Parekh:  (exchanges glances with Pallin)

  Meanwhile, Kronos was steadily getting closer to the white tower; he
had already covered half the distance between the others and the base of
the structure.  Naturally, he was not just walking toward this unknown
place unprepared; aside from the natural immunity to certain types of
magic or attack, he had multiple additional protections due to spells or
items.  Already, he could sense the pull of sleep - a pull that had not
affected him for a long, long time.  The enchantment was more potent than
any other such aura he'd ever encountered, but he was not a living being
and was thus beyond the grip of such.  As he neared the tower, his senses
detected an aura of chronal magic as if something was wrong in
some way.  The lich had long ago become an expert - even a master - of
time-related magic, and it was strong around this building.  The thing
was also displaced spatially as well, suggesting that perhaps it existed
simultaneously in another plane.
  As he pondered these things and drew nearer to the tower, a small door
appeared in its base, facing obvious invitation.  He continued
toward it, realizing after a few moments that not all present had been
extended that invitation.

Kronos:  (turns around, noting that his dozen skeletal guardsmen have
  stopped advancing, and appear to have come up against some unseen
  barrier against which they struggle unsuccessfully to advance)  Hmm.
  (after watching them for a few moments, he mentally commands them to
  cease their efforts and simply wait for him where they now stand)
skeletal warriors:  (obey wordlessly)
Kronos:  (turns back toward the door, and closes the distance)

  He wasn't overly concerned about the skeletons; although they were
swift, strong, capable warriors, they were yet lesser undead and thus
able to be stopped in any number of ways.  Perhaps the master of this
tower was a high priest - in which case Kronos had a rather potent ward
against being turned away - but he didn't think that was the case.  The
tower literally reeked of wizardry, and it was likely that only such an
individual could inhabit it.

Kronos:  (stops at the door, peering in with a magically-amplified range
  of almost a dozen senses)

  Detecting nothing to cause him concern, the lich paused only a moment
before striding through the door.

Parekh:  (with the others, many hundreds of feet distant, she shakes her
  head)  And there he goes.
Pallin:  Let's give him some time.  Whatever lies within, he will find it
  and deal with it in short order; he's nothing if not efficient.

  The moment he walked through the door, Kronos observed a most amazing
change in the size and shape of the tower's interior.  From the outside,
the tower's dimensions suggested that this entry chamber would have been
a circular room of about twenty feet in diameter.  However, as he stood
inside, Kronos found himself at the edge of a much larger round room.
It was more than a hundred feet across, with dozens of thick, ornately-
carven pillars throughout its length.  At the far end was a throne of
ivory, padded with thick, plush cushions.  This seat was empty, but to
either side stood a pair of huge stone statues.  Two more of those were
positioned to the right and left of the portal through which Kronos had
entered - a portal which had just closed behind the lich, smoothly and
  Due to his augmented senses, Kronos made the four statues out as stone
golems, although for reasons unknown they were currently inert.  He could
also tell that the throne of white stone not only had multiple protective
enchantments cast upon or around it, but was also a powerful magical item
in its own right.  The entire chamber was topped by a gray stone dome some
fifty feet overhead.  That vast ceiling was covered in bright paintings
depicting some sort of kingdom and its inhabitants; one could have spent
hours looking over all of these.  However, Kronos did not have hours to
spare - and neither, apparently, did his unknown host.

female voice:  You are unlike any visitor I've yet had here.  Then again,
  very few visitors have proven able to approach this place.
Kronos:  Agreed.  If you will show yourself, we might parley.
female voice:  Parley?  I am not planning on a negotiation.  I will learn
  your business, and then decide what to do with you.
Kronos:  Understood...but I assure you, you will most definitely want to
  hear what I have to say.  The nature of this desert has changed, and it
  will soon change further.  I am here representing the agents of that
  change.  (he folds his arms impassively)
female voice:  Yes, I am aware of certain recent events.  The old wizard,
  having fled from more civilized lands to exile himself here - and now
  he is gone.
Kronos:  He was...dealt with.  He had done great injustice to some of our
  number, as well as many others; those offenses could not be overlooked.
wizardess:  (materializes upon the throne)  Very well, we will talk.  You
  may approach.

  The woman was clearly of Flan descent, though somehow different at the
same time (of all individuals, Kronos was the least qualified to make any
guesses about this, since he generally avoided people and had done so for
many generations in the human reckoning of time).  Her skin was a healthy
shade of brown, her hair jet-black with barely-noticeable tinges of gray.
She appeared to be in her late thirties or early forties, and - not that
Kronos would notice or judge such things - was quite lovely, even sultry,
but not intentionally...for her words and mannerisms were more like those
of a scholar or diplomat.

wizardess:  I am Shemeya.  And obviously, I am a mage.
Kronos:  (nods)  Of no small power, judging by that throne, this room,
  this very tower.  I am called Kronos, and like yourself, I am a wizard
  of significant power.

  As the lich drew near the seated ruler of the tower, they sized each
other up in ways far beyond those of regular people meeting one another
for the first time.  Magical auras and protections were noted, if not
analyzed or questioned, for this was not the time.

Shemeya:  (scrutinizes the hooded figure)  Are you...a man of flesh and
Kronos:  Not quite.
Shemeya:  That explains why you were unaffected by the veil of sleep that
  surrounds my tower.
Kronos:  That is not the only thing that surrounds it.  (he frowns)  Time
  does not pass normally here.
Shemeya:  (surprised)  Interesting.  No one has ever discerned that before.
Kronos:  (shrugs, as if this is completely normal)  The moment I walked
  through that door, I noticed the anomaly.  I've also noticed that some
  potent magic allows us to converse and understand each other.
Shemeya:  It's one property of this throne.  I could unseat myself and
  try speaking with you in the tongue of ancient Sulm, but I doubt that
  would serve any useful purpose.
Kronos:  (speaking now in that long-dead language)  Do not be so sure.  In
  my time, I have had the opportunity to study and master a number of both
  ancient and modern languages.  I have likely forgotten more of those
  than many scholars will ever learn.
Shemeya:  (her eyes widen slightly)  Fascinating.
Kronos:  So we are both wizards, and we are both intellectuals.  (he
  regards her more closely)  And I suspect that we have something else in
  common:  we are both ancient.
Shemeya:  What leads you to that conclusion?
Kronos:  (gestures at the surrounding chamber)  This tower's enchantment,
  the energy that surrounds it...seems keyed toward slowing the passage of
  time to a great degree.  If this is the case - and I am somewhat of an
  expert in such things - then you are much, much older than you appear.
Shemeya:  (nods appreciatively)  You are correct.  Over two thousand years
  past, when that idiot Shattados brought a curse down upon the land of
  Sulm, I was able to shift myself and my home into a bubble of magical
  power, at the last possible instant before the curse would have taken
  me.  Doing so protected me from the effects of the curse, which made my
  lush, green homeland into an arid waste and changed all of its people
  into horrible half-scorpion beasts.  In the ages since, they have all
  died off, but their monstrous descendants continue to inhabit the land.
  Only Shattados himself yet lives, unable to perish due to the curse.
  (she shakes her head angrily)  Damn his evil ambition.
Kronos:  So you cannot leave this tower?
Shemeya:  Not unless I want to suffer the same fate that the others did.
  The curse of the Scorpion Crown is all-powerful, beyond the ability of
  even a powerful wizardess to resist.
Kronos:  Hmmm.
Shemeya:  What's that?
Kronos:  I mentioned that my allies and I eliminated Rary and his forces.
Shemeya:  (sits back, a flash of anger crossing her face)  And you intend
  to take his place?
Kronos:  (shakes his head once)  Gods, no.  Our group of archmagi - which,
  believe me, is extraordinarily powerful and capable - means to find and
  destroy the crown and rid this land of its curse.  Obviously, we cannot
  bring back your people, the denizens of Sulm...but we can build a new
  kingdom in its place, one that flourishes in this current era, as well
  as help restore peace and prosperity to the world around it.
Shemeya:  (nods)  From my tower, as it danced between space and time, I
  have watched these wars that recently plagued the world.  A stronghold
  of law and order, such as you speak of, could have true and lasting
  impact.  (she eyes the lich)  But how can I know that you speak the
  truth, and that events will unfold as you have described?
Kronos:  Clearly, you have the power to monitor events in the world beyond
  this tower.  Simply continue to do so, and you will witness our actions.
  Already, some of our group have dealt with various threats scattered
  about the desert and surrounding hills.  But there is more to come...
  much more.
Shemeya:  I see.
Kronos:  After these minor tasks are complete - and after we establish a
  base and an army to turn back any who would take this land for their own
  purposes - we will turn our full attention to finding the Scorpion Crown
  in whatever buried city or tomb it resides in.  We have noted several
  possibilities; it is just a matter of digging and excavation-
Shemeya:  (holds up a hand)  Enough.
Kronos:  (a bit confused)
Shemeya:  I cannot safely leave this tower - not while the crown exists -
  but I know more of ancient Sulm, and this wretched desert that it has
  become, than anyone alive today.  (she regards the lich)  And I know
  where the accursed creature once known as Shattados makes his lair.  If
  you find him, you will likely find the crown.  And if you destroy both
  of them, I can finally leave this time-bubble and perhaps return to some
  semblance of a normal life.
Kronos:  (intrigued)  Do tell.

  Presently, the hooded lich emerged from the pale white tower...which
immediately vanished, the air around it shimmering briefly after it was
gone.  As he passed his skeletal warriors, they fell in step behind him
while he walked briskly toward the others.

Parekh:  Well, that didn't take long.
Kronos:  Eh?
Pallin:  You were only gone for a few moments.
Kronos:  Hmm...that makes sense, given the temporal magic of the tower.
Parekh:  What?
Kronos:  No matter.  (he nods)  A very fruitful visit, that.  The master
  of the Tower of actually a mistress.  And a powerful wizard.
  And a potential ally.  I shall explain all once the entire group is once
  more gathered.  Let us return to the Brass Hills; we need to begin work
  on some sort of stronghold, and the forces needed to support it.

  The lich hadn't yet gotten the location of the crown, for the strange
and ancient wizardess hadn't yet been ready to provide it.  But that bit
of information wasn't needed quite yet...and besides, Kronos was fully
aware that his home in the frozen mountains to the far northeast held
another means of learning what was needed.  He could employ his unique,
powerful magical throne to locate any person or unique item, and would
have done so...but now he wouldn't need to waste the power and weaken
himself after its use.  Or, in the worst case...he could use it to verify
whatever information the sorceress Shemeya provided him in the future.

Kronos:  (allows himself the slightest of smiles)

  Elsewhere, within her tower which was outside of conventional space and
time, Shemeya pondered this evening's events.  She'd had a lot of time to
watch and consider things over her lengthy stay in the tower, as there was
scant else to do, trapped here as she was.  Her apparent salvation at the
outset of the curse had become a prison, as even a gilded cage was still
a cage; the situation was worse because she'd had no living companions in
all of that time.  Many would have wondered how she'd avoided going insane
(or simply assumed she actually _was_ insane) but she had busied herself
with matters both magical and historical.  Her statement to Kronos had
been true; she possessed a vast store of knowledge about every corner of
the Bright Desert, and knew answers to questions that Kronos' group hadn't
even come up with yet.  She also, of course, knew everything that the lich
and his allies had done since arriving in the desert and deposing Rary.
To be sure, if she hadn't already been aware of her visitor's deeds, she
would never have allowed him to set foot inside her home.
  And now...for the first time in centuries...she had a glimmer of hope
that the Scorpion Crown, its wearer, and its curse could all be destroyed
sometime soon.  With that thought, she smiled to herself.

next:        the battle of Kalki's Leap
released:    1/12/2024
notes:       So...Shemeya.  This lady's an NPC found in the _Rary the
  Traitor_ accessory.  There are no secrets to her, I just played it as
  written.  I did have to invent her appearance myself, and the idea was
  a Latina woman of exceptional intellect and power.  I don't need anyone
  to tell me that she might be a viable future candidate to join the gang
  of wizards (for whom I really need to come up with a new, catchy name
  as technically they are no longer the Cabal).
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