Chapter #667

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                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +      Epic IV      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     Many of the locations, non-player characters, spells, and other     +
+   terms used in these stories are the property of TSR, Inc.  However,   +
+   TSR has in no way endorsed or authorized their use, and any such      +
+   items contained within these stories are not representative of TSR    +
+   in any fashion.                                                       +
+     The player characters depicted in these stories are copyright       +
+   1991-2000 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!                                          +
+                                                                         +
+                                                      Thomas A. Miller   +
+   Belphanior      14th/14th/14th level elven fighter/wizard/thief       +
+     Aja            9th level human priestess of Wee Jas                 +
+     Neko           7th level human female thief                         +
+     Skektek       12th level human wizard                               +
+     Zhao           8th level human swordsman (currently petrified)      +
+   Bosco           12th level halfling thief                             +
+   Mongo           18th level dwarven fighter                            +
+     Gorgo          9th level dwarven berserker                          +
+   Date:           3/2/579 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:           late afternoon                                        +
+   Place:          Mount Aeon, on the eastern edge of the Hellfurnaces   +
+   Climate:        cold                                                  +
+   "I'm the one who knows...the only one who knows it all...and is       +
+    still breathing."                      - from _Cast A Deadly Spell_  +

                    DCLXVII.  The Oracle of Espyria

  After reaching the summit of Mount Aeon and facing the third of three
challenges, the party found a passage and then a voice...

Belphanior:  Whoa.
Mongo:  (fairly unimpressed and unintimidated)  Well, come on out then.
  We've come a long way and been through a lot to find you, and time is
  running short.
Belphanior:  Well, at least we know she's the real thing.

  "She" indeed, for the voice was definitely female.  It was also deep
and rich, suggesting great wisdom and perhaps great age.

Mongo:  (talking loudly to no one in particular, again)  So what now?

  They obeyed, and found that after one more curve, the passage ended
in a simple wooden door, which opened into a larger cavern.  At the
center of this chamber was a stone chair, and in this chair sat a dark,
hooded figure, its hands tucked into the folds of a long, vast robe.
The darkness within the front of the hood was impenetrable.
  Twin braziers were located on either side of the stone chair, and low
fires burned in both of them, providing dim and flickering light which
didn't help the adventurers see much better in the cavern.

Belphanior:  What...are you?
Mongo:  (to Belphanior)  Can't you see with that freaky eye of yours?
Belphanior:  No.  As a matter of fact, I can't.
Mongo:  Oh.
figure:  I am the Oracle of Espyria.
Mongo:  That's kinda what we figured.
Skektek:  What happened to the booming voice?
Oracle:  A necessary effect, until now.
Skektek:  No problem, I actually thought it was a nice touch.
Aja:  (smirks)
Neko:  (silently wondering what the Oracle is, where it sleeps, what it
  eats and drinks, and so on)
Bosco:  (silently wondering if there are any long-lost treasures to be
  found in this place)
Gorgo:  (somewhat bored in this sort of setting, he fidgets
Mongo:  Well, let's get right to it.  From what I know - what I've
  heard, mostly - you've got knowledge like no one else about the
  Tomb, Panagaea, Emperor Hyperion, and such.  We need to know some
Bosco:  Like where it is.
Mongo:  Shh!  This is my show!
Bosco:  Sheez!  No need to get testy.
Oracle:  (ignoring Bosco, she addresses Mongo and Belphanior)  Such
  mighty heroes...or anti-heroes, as the case may be.
Belphanior:  Interesting viewpoint.
Oracle:  And one that is unique, and can only come from one who sees
  many things, such as I do.
Mongo:  (just a little bit impatient after all that they went through
  to get here)  Panagaea...?
Oracle:  Your impatience and temper will be your undoing, dwarf.
Mongo:  Yeah, I've heard that one before.
Oracle:  Not from me.
Mongo:  Do you require payment?  We brought a bunch of gold and gems
Oracle:  Let me see the tablet you carry.
Mongo:  Uh...right.  (he retrieves the stone tablet with the Panagaean
  runes on its worn surface)
Oracle:  Bring it to me.

  The dwarf handed the tablet over, figuring on at least seeing what the
Oracle's hands looked like.  He didn't - it seemed that the shadows were
just a little deeper, the light just wrong at that exact moment.

Oracle:  (examines the ancient piece of stone)  Hmmm...yes.  Ah.
Mongo:  Is this good?
Oracle:  This verifies what was suspected for eons...the final resting
  place of Emperor Hyperion, with riches beyond measure!
Mongo:  (pumps his fist in the air)  Yes!
Oracle:  I shall keep this tablet.
Mongo:  But-
Oracle:  You shall not need the tablet to find the Tomb.
Mongo:  Oh.
Belphanior:  Won't we need a map or something of that sort?
Oracle:  Take heed now.  The Tomb is old, older than any place you have
  ever seen and ever will see.  Just as its treasures are unlike any
  that you know of, so are its guardians.
Mongo:  Then the treasures are real?
Oracle:  As real as you or I.
Mongo:  (grins)
Belphanior:  Let's get back to that "guardians" part...
Oracle:  Perhaps you thought that the Tomb would be abandoned?
Mongo:  To be honest, we really hadn't thought too much about it at all.
Oracle:  Many believe that the greatest challenge is simply _finding_
  the Tomb, but this is not the case, for the greatest challenge is
  surviving its defenses...and defenders.
Belphanior:  Monsters?  Gods?  Demons?
Oracle:  There are some secrets that should remain secrets.
Belphanior:  (sighs)
Mongo:  So where is the place, anyway?  (his eyes gleam as he thinks of
  the various possibilities he's come up with)  Beyond the Sea of Dust?
  South of Hepmonaland, maybe?  Or maybe out of sight somewhere not so
  far away...beneath the Bright Desert or at the bottom of the Nyr Dyv?
Bosco:  Hey, those are some pretty good guesses.
Oracle:  True, but none of them are correct.  (she pauses, as they all
  perk up to hear this greatest of secrets)  The Lost Tomb of Panagaea
  lies far to the east...amid the depths of the Solnor Ocean.
Mongo:  Ocean?  Dammit.
Belphanior:  (thinking about how easy this will be, using the airship)
  An island?
Oracle:  An island, but no island like any other.  The Lost Isle of
  Panagaea lies hidden beneath the ocean depths!
Mongo:  This just gets better and better.
Oracle:  No mortal man has seen the place in thousands of years.
Belphanior:  We aim to change that.
Mongo:  Wait...I have a question.  If this Tomb marks the site of the
  capital of an empire, why the hell is it smack-dab in the middle of
  an ocean, and at the bottom, no less?
Belphanior:  Hell, I can answer that one for you:  the empire fell, and
  nature took over.  It's been thousands of years, after all.
Mongo:  Oh.
Belphanior:  Lands shift, oceans rise...things change.
Oracle:  A very astute observation.
Mongo:  So, this can we get to it?
Oracle:  (silently faces the dwarf for a long moment before replying)
  At midnight on the vernal equinox, the Tomb will be directly under
  the baleful glare of Thryxus.
Belphanior:  Dammit, I just knew you were going to say something like
Mongo:  Vernal equinox?  What the hell does that mean?
Bosco:  And who's Thryxus?
Skektek:  Uh, can you spell that, please?
Oracle:  That is the remainder of your trial - solve this final puzzle,
  and you shall find the Tomb.
Mongo:  (sighs)
Belphanior:  I hope this doesn't get any worse.
Oracle:  I have more to tell, but you may not wish to know.
Belphanior:  Try me.
Oracle:  Your greatest challenge - and heartbreak - may lie in store
  before you even depart for the Solnor.
Belphanior:  (looking around)  You mean me?  You mean me!
Oracle:  Yes.  There is much conflict in your near future...much blood
  and death.
Belphanior:  Tell me something I don't know.
Oracle:  Among those closest to you...there will be great turmoil.
  Three lives will be changed forever.  One will leave your
  will betray you...and one will die.
Belphanior:  (completely taken aback)  What?!?
Oracle:  (cryptically)  It has been foretold.
Belphanior:  (grits his teeth, his mind a mix of whirling emotions, for
  he is too confident to believe these words, yet too intelligent to
  disregard them)  Dammit.
Mongo:  Maybe we'd best get back to Helgate.
Belphanior:  Yeah...I think we'd better.

  They thanked the Oracle and departed, using the same passage they'd
come in by.  Not only had this meeting been anticlimactic, but if the
power of prophecy was to be believed, Belphanior had problems ahead.

Mongo:  At least we got what we came for.
Aja:  I've been wondering...did the Oracle use the tablet to discern the
  location of the Tomb, or did she know anyway?
Mongo:  That one I can't answer.  I'm just glad we know what she knew.
Skektek:  I imagine we'll have to venture to that area and round up some
Aja:  We may need to charter a ship.
Neko:  A big ship.
Gorgo:  With lots of warriors.
Mongo:  They'll have to be loyal and brave.
Bosco:  They're not getting a share of the loot, are they?
Mongo:  This all assumes that we solve the riddle, this Thryxus thing.
Bosco:  We will.  And then-
Belphanior:  Enough, all of you.  (he frowns)  Before we deal with any
  of those issues, I want to get back...just to make sure everything's
  okay in Helgate.  We can get on with the quest afterwards.

next:      all hell breaks loose in Helgate
released:  8/21/00
notes:     There were so many possible locations for the Tomb, so I
  tried to avoid ones to which the journey would resemble older stories
  I'd done (e.g. heart of a desert, sea of dust, the edge of the world,
  far in the frozen north.)  Eventually I went with the remote-isle idea
  but with a twist (it's not always find-able or visible.)
    This made me think about something else:  there's not much in the
  way of larger-than-life epic-scope adventures that at least some of
  the Adventurers haven't done.  This is not a major problem for PEOPLE-
  driven stories, but I still want some fantasy in there too.  If I
  could go back and do it all over, I would reorganize the order in
  which the great epic quests/adventures happened.  I mean, let's face
  it:  going to the Abyss to take on Orcus should have been the final
  adventure in my series.  No other supposedly fantastic adventure that
  came (or comes) after can truly stack up in terms of awing the reader.
    An interesting problem, and one that I hadn't thought about until I
  wrote this episode.

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