Chapter #822

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                                   +   +
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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
                               +           +
                                 +       +
                                   +   +

+     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       +
+   1991-2004 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     15th/15th/15th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Elgon          8th/9th/11th level deep gnome priest/illusionist/thief +
+   Jenna          9th level human female priestess of Istus              +
+   Otto           10th/12th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  10th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          5/22/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         Rob's temple, in Keoland                               +
+   Climate:       warm                                                   +
+   "  I have a feeling the answers are bigger than the questions."       +
+                                                         - from _2010_   +

                      DCCCXXII.  Plunder of Secrets

  Two weeks had passed since Belphanior and friends found and defeated
the vampiress Drusilla and learned the secrets of Xusia's teleportation
gateways.  They had been two of the busiest weeks of the elf's life, for
there had been much to do - visiting others, studying items found in the
dungeon, making plans for the next step, and wrapping up loose ends.

Belphanior:  This was quite a to-do list.  Damned if we didn't get it
  all done, though.  Let's see...Drusilla's in suspended animation,
  trapped within my iron flask.  Her hideout in the Pelisso Swamp is
  secured, its entrance caved in so only someone who's been there, like
  us for example, can teleport in.  I gave the Book of Stars to Pallin
  and the history of the Sueloise Empire to Neera.  Sir Dremel knows to
  seek his slain brother's soul in the realm of Nerull...though how he
  could do that, I've got no idea.  (he turns to Skektek)  Any word on
  the powers of that wand, or even what's in Drusilla's spellbook?
Skektek:  The spellbook was easy to crack, and contained assorted spells
  which were mostly useful to one needing to escape and evade, like the
  vampiress.  As for the wand...for a simple wand of gray bone with a
  few runes on it, it's sure radiating some powerful magic.  I couldn't
  decipher the runes by myself, which is why I went with you to visit
  Parekh and Neera.
Otto:  Did Neera have any answers?
Skektek:  (nods)  She taught me how to pronounce the ancient words that
  correspond to each of the runes.  (he frowns)  I was all ready to test
  the wand out, but this place's ruler, that Rob fellow - he forbade it.
  Something about not wanting evil done around here.
Belphanior:  Hmm.  Well, you'll soon have all kinds of chances to test
  the thing out.  (he turns to Otto)  What more have you learned from
  the vampiress' journal.
Otto:  Well, when I told you that it seemed she kept track of things...
  that was only the tip of the iceberg.  We've now got leads on several
  things that bear further investigation, that is, as soon as we're all
  done cracking these gateways.
Belphanior:  What sorts of things?
Otto:  Xusia had allies here and there, though I suspect many of them
  will be found via the gateways.  There's also information on some other
  powerful people - Iuz, the Overking in Aerdy, a few of the Hierarchs
  of the Horned Society, and the Scarlet Brotherhood.
Belphanior:  Yeah, that's good information.
Otto:  It doesn't stop there.  If we ever want to go after that group, the
  Crimson Blades, there are some notes about them, and a possible location
  of a lair.  Remember those nine demigods who escaped from beneath Castle
  Greyhawk?  Their names and histories are in the journal.
Skektek:  The nine demigods trapped under Castle Greyhawk?  I thought that
  was an urban legend.
Otto:  Not according to Drusilla's journal.  In fact, according to what
  I've read, it seems that some of them may be among parties trying to
  orchestrate a world-wide war.
Skektek:  I'm no savior of the world, but shouldn't we be trying to put
  a stop to such a plot?
Belphanior:  Maybe, but we'd be better armed and prepared after looting
  Xusia's hideouts and killing any of his allies we find in the process.
Otto:  Agreed.  (to Belphanior)  Last but not least, we've apparently got
  an Oligarch of Greyhawk who's being blackmailed and selling out valuable
  information to the wrong side...and guess who it is?  (he says a name)
Belphanior:  (whistles)  Sweet.
Skektek:  But first, before any of this other stuff, we're tackling the
Belphanior:  Yep.  It's two birds with one arrow, really; we eliminate
  potential enemies, and we gain magic, items, secrets.  (he frowns)
  Make that three birds - we can definitely use the gateway network to
  more easily accomplish any future goals of ours.
Otto:  And we're confident that we understand the gateways and how to
  use them?
Belphanior:  Let's recap:  Xusia built them, with the help of the Nine,
  with the stated intent of using them to strengthen the Nine's position
  and eventually attack other places.  But in reality, Xusia had his own
  attacking force lined up:  demons from the Abyss.  That plan got nixed
  and the Nine destroyed or driven away, so we're left with more than a
  dozen secret hideouts, some with caches of treasure and magic...all of
  them shielded against detection and intrusion.
Otto:  Except the one in the Pelisso.
Belphanior:  Whose gateway won't work anyway without the talisman we now
Skektek:  And we know there are nineteen total gateways, or were since
  at least two have been destroyed.
Belphanior:  Yeah, the ones in the Fortress of the Nine and Blackmoor are
  gone, and the one in the Pelisso is functional.  That leaves sixteen
  that are unknown to us.
Skektek:  Sixteen, of which we know seven of their general locations.  (he
  reads from a parchment)  " beneath the Free City of Greyhawk, at
  least two in the Underdark, one in the Sea of Dust, one within the
  Unholy City, one beyond the Land of Black Ice, one in the Riftcanyon...
  and there are others in unknown locations."  (he looks up)  From the
  horses' mouth, so to speak.
Otto:  So which one do we hit first?
Belphanior:  The Sea of Dust.  We know that's where Xusia's fourth-in-
  command is, what was his name?
Skektek:  (consulting the parchment)  Al-arakara the Damned, a Sueloise
  mummy king.  We know nothing else about him, except that he and the
  vampiress didn't like each other.
Belphanior:  I imagine that they were rivals under Xusia, and in the end,
  Drusilla ended up with the talisman, but was afraid to activate the
  gateway system for fear of reprisal by Al-arakara, who's probably more
  powerful and would destroy her, without Xusia to stop him.
Otto:  Mm.
Belphanior:  Just a theory.
Skektek:  So we'll prepare ourselves...teleport back inside the Pelisso
  dungeon...use the talisman to enable the gateway there...and then use
  the gateway to drop in on the mummy king and blast him to hell?
Belphanior:  Yep.
Skektek:  Outstanding.
Otto: will we know which of the runes on the gateway's dial
  corresponds to the Sea of Dust gateway?
Belphanior:  (grins)  Skektek?
Skektek:  I anticipated this, so back in the Pelisso dungeon, before we
  left, I copied down all the runes on that gateway's metal dial.  When
  we visited Neera, I had her take a look at them and offer translations.
  We're thinking that the rune "Dust" is the one we want.
Otto:  Ah.
Belphanior:  (stands, ending the meeting of the three companions)  Well,
  then...the time has come.
Otto:  I'll get the others.  When are we leaving?
Belphanior:  An hour.

  After the other two left, the elf quietly reflected on recent events,
and the price he'd have to pay to his allies.  Rob had been content to
let the elf and his crew rest and recuperate in his temple for the last
two weeks, and had asked no questions.  Belphanior suspected that the
high priest knew what they were up to, in some general sense, but didn't
care, as long as evil was set to be conquered.  As for Parekh, Pallin,
and their secret and mysterious far, they seemed to be happy
with the items and information that Belphanior was bringing back from his
raids.  Still, the elf was highly suspicious - if he were in their shoes,
he'd want to come along, to be present when the secrets of history's most
powerful lich were unearthed.  He'd have to be careful, and watch those
other wizards until he could figure out their motivations.

  It was midday when the group, eight strong since Angus had been melted
by dragon breath, departed Keoland, only to appear in a buried dungeon
on an entirely different continent.  The hidden lair, which the vampiress
Drusilla had used as a temporary base of operations, still had the same
dry, pungent smell that they remembered.  They found the teleportation
gateway just as it had been two weeks ago:  a ten-foot passage that ended
abruptly in a stone arch, with a red stone set within the wall to the
right.  This stone was surrounded by a metal disc, inlaid with nineteen
distinct and unusual markings - ancient Sueloise runes, from an era long
since passed into dust.

Belphanior:  So this gateway can connect to _all_ of the others.
Skektek:  Yeah, the vampiress mentioned that some gateways don't have
  runes for all of the other gateways.  I guess this is a master gateway
  of sorts.

  Despite being told directly how to operate the teleporter, they'd done
double- and triple-checks on their notes as well as the information found
in Drusilla's journal.  The metal disc could be rotated so that any of
its runes lined up with the stone mark above the disc, at the point
corresponding to twelve o'clock on a timepiece.  At this point, when the
red stone was pushed, the gateway would open - a one-way portal lasting
for a minute.

Jenna:  One-way only, so we can't just walk back through if we don't like
  what we see on the other side?
Belphanior:  Right.  We'd have to defeat whatever was menacing us there,
  then turn around and use their gateway to come back here.
Razor Charlie:  (checking all of his knives)
Elgon:  And there's no risk of teleporting into solid rock or anything?
Skektek:  If we dial in a gateway that's been destroyed, nothing will
  happen.  I guess no portal would open from here.  (he finds the rune
  that means "Dust" and makes some notes on his ever-present parchment)
Belphanior:  (takes the talisman of red stone from his pocket)  Now, is
  everyone ready?
Ys:  (one scaly hand on his sword's pommel)  Aye.
wispy thing:  Yrrrp!

  The elf walked up to the gateway, hesitated for a moment, then pushed
the red stone within the metal disc.  Nothing happened.

Belphanior:  Just testing, in case Drusilla lied to us or was wrong.  She
  did say that it wouldn't work without the talisman.  (he holds the
  thing up)  Now, for real...everyone ready?

  Moments later, the elf cautiously held the talisman in front of the red
stone - which immediately began to glow and emit a low, barely audible
humming sound.

Belphanior:  (puts the talisman away and pushes the red stone with one

  The air within the stone archway began to glow and crackle...and then
it slowly filled with a thick, colorless mist.  Everyone present could
sense great power emanating from the device.

Belphanior:  Okay then.  (he looks back, then boldly steps into the mist,
  vanishing from sight)

next:      the Sea of Dust
released:  5/28/04
notes:     Here we go - the arc I've been itching to get back to since
  publishing 812, more than two months ago.
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