Chapter #897

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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       +
+   1991-2005 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 +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Mongo          18th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Date:          7/7/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                             +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         an unknown dungeon complex                             +
+   Climate:       cool and dry                                           +
+   "That man is crazy."                                                  +
+   "Yeah, but it's a good kind of crazy."                                +
+                                                  - from _The A-Team_    +

                   DCCCXCVII.  Dark Armory

  The adventurers have learned that they're in a trap - a gateway which
allows entrance, but has no way out!

Otto:  Are you saying it's escape-proof?
Skektek:  The rune was "iron" we know why.
Belphanior:  This gateway destination is nothing more than a carefully-
  designed trap...a one-way trip to nowhere, with golems handy to dispose
  of anyone who gets fooled by the trap.
Otto:  Dammit.
Skektek:  Maybe we can blast our way out.
Belphanior:  If we're deep beneath the surface of the world, as I think
  we are, then we'd risk caving everything in, and burying ourselves
  forever.  (to Otto)  Any idea how far down we might be?
Otto:  Elgon could give you a better idea, but offhand, I'd say...many
  hundreds of feet, at least.
Mongo:  (pacing around)  Agreed.
Skektek:  Shit.
Razor Charlie:  (looks around, imagining the countless tons of solid
  rock between this place and the surface world)  This sucks.
Belphanior:  There's got to be a way out of here - we're just not using
  our heads.  Think:  when they built this complex, they had to have some
  way to leave, themselves.  If it wasn't a gateway, then it was something
Skektek:  (nods)  True.
Otto:  That makes sense, but how the hell will we know the means of
Belphanior:  Experimentation.

  The next hour was devoted to all sorts of trials and tests, all of
them focused on the same goal:  finding a way out of this place.  The
gateway was obviously designed as a one-way portal, but none of those
present had the in-depth knowledge of teleportation magic to reverse-
engineer the gateway so it could be used to escape.  Other spells of
travel - such as dimension door and teleport - failed to work.

Belphanior:  I'm not sure why that is, either.  Damn.  (he grits his
  teeth)  If Pallin was here with us, he'd probably be able to figure
  out what's blocking magical exit from this damned place.
Skektek:  If Pallin was here, he could probably tinker with the gateway
  and its magic, and make it work like we want it to.
Mongo:  I still don't see why we can't just smash our way out.
Otto:  You're talking about tons and tons of solid rock.
Mongo:  So?
Belphanior:  You'd have to smash through it, one hammer-blow at a time.
Mongo:  So?
Skektek:  And the rock around you would cave in while you were smashing
  your way through it.
Mongo:  So?
Razor Charlie:  (beginning to wonder if Mongo might actually possess the
  raw strength and stamina to plow his way out of here, he grimaces)
Elgon:  (regains consciousness suddenly)  Wh- what's going on?

  While the gnome was brought up to speed, and his wounds checked,
Belphanior began examining the walls, using his magical crystal eye to
study them a little more closely than before.

Skektek:  You look like you're coming up with a plan.
Belphanior:  Maybe.  Give me some time.

  The elf made a complete sweep of the walls, both in the main chamber
and the second one; several times, he returned to one spot or another
in one of the chambers.  It almost looked like he was surveying the very
rock that made up the walls.

Mongo:  You're no miner, so what's going on?
Belphanior:  Well...if we assume that we can't figure out - much less
  undo - whatever magic created this one-way gateway, we have to think
  somewhat unconventionally.  This place is obviously shielded against
  magic that would normally allow escape...shielded with some weird ore
  in the walls, or maybe just a lot of metal, maybe lead.  But...think
  about it:  that "shielding" can't extend _forever_, beyond these two
  chambers.  To put it another way, we're trapped here because of special
  walls, but those walls can only be so thick.
Mongo:  So we smash through them!  That's what I've been saying all along-
Belphanior:  No, we can't smash through them, because the complex would
  collapse and crush us all.  But, one among us has a magical device-
 (he points to Skektek)  -that can create, destroy, or alter stone.
Skektek:  My elemental rod!  Of course!  (to Razor Charlie)  Why didn't
  I think of that?
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)
Otto: we use the rod to tunnel through these walls...
Belphanior:  And I've got some good guesses as to which specific areas
  might have the least "shielding."
Otto:  ...and then once we're past the funny walls, we use our normal
  magic to teleport away from here.
Belphanior:  Yep.
Elgon:  Sounds good to me...though I just woke up.
Skektek:  Let's get to it.  Time's wasting.
Mongo:  Damn right.

  Shortly, the process had begun.  Skektek had to do a bit of testing
and experimentation; his first attempt created a wall of stone around
the party, while his second turned a large section of the wall into a
huge heap of mud.  After that, though, he got the hang of it, and solid
rock was vaporized in fairly large chunks.

Otto:  Where do you think it's going?
Skektek:  Elemental plane of Earth, would be my guess.
Mongo:  They can always use more rock there.
Elgon:  (looking back at the forty-foot-long passage, jutting out of the
  gateway chamber, that Skektek has created in the last few minutes)  How
  far do you think we need to drill, to get past whatever's blocking the
  main rooms?
Belphanior:  We might be okay now, but I'd advise that we go further,
  maybe twenty feet, just to be safe.  (he smirks)  As long as we're on
  a roll...
Skektek:  Heh.  (he waves the rod and speaks the same command word yet
  again, and another huge chunk of rock vanishes)
Otto:  It's a good thing this rock's solid, without pockets or caves...
  otherwise it would have collapsed by now.
Mongo:  That's why we're holding back after each time, to make sure it's

  Soon, the party had moved through about sixty feet of solid rock, and
who knew what else in the way or metal ore; they stood at the end of a
passageway leading back to the gateway chamber.

Skektek:  Can we really call it a gateway chamber if its gateway isn't
Razor Charlie:  Who cares?
Otto:  (to Belphanior)  Are you going to try and teleport again?
Belphanior:  (scanning the walls of this tunnel with his crystal eye)
  I think so.  The walls are definitely different here...they're only
  stone, without any other substances.  I think we've escaped Xusia's
  trap.  (he begins spellcasting)  Everyone gather 'round.
wispy thing:  psssb.
Mongo:  I hope this works.
Skektek:  It should work.  (he frowns)  In theory.
Elgon:  Where will we return to?  The chamber within the swamp?
Belphanior:  Exactly.  (he completes his spell, concentrating on the
  gateway chamber buried within the Pelisso Swamp)

  This time, it worked.  The party vanished from the underground chamber
and reappeared in the now-familiar complex that had been the former lair
of the vampiress Drusilla.

Skektek:  (pumps a fist in the air)  Yeah!
Belphanior:  (grins)
Otto:  (clasps Razor Charlie's shoulder)  I told you we'd be okay.
Elgon:  (feeling his healing burns, he grimaces)  I don't really feel
Belphanior:  You will.  We're taking the rest of the day off, camping
  here for the night.  We won't resume explorations until the morning.
  Everyone get some rest.
Otto:  (jokingly)  We should just bring some furniture to this place,
  since we stay here so much.

  As the afternoon wore on and eventually turned into evening, copious
amounts of rest, food, and drink were enjoyed by all.  Except for Elgon
fully healing from his wounds, and everyone getting a good night's sleep,
this downtime was uneventful.  Morning found the adventurers ready for
the next round of explorations...

Belphanior:  We've only got three destinations left:  blood, darkness,
  and moon.  Much as I shudder to think what some of these runes really
  mean when applied to these gateway destinations, that doesn't change
  anything.  They're still out there, and we still need to explore them.
  Let's get "darkness" out of the way next; I can't say why, but I have
  an uneasy feeling about the other two.
Skektek:  Should we check on Jenna, Ys, and the rest?
Belphanior:  (shakes his head)  I talked with Parekh before we left her
  home last time; if there was any change, she would have left us some
  kind of message here.
Razor Charlie:  (looks around)  I don't see anything.
Belphanior:  And that's why we're going on without Ys and Jenna.
Elgon:  Is this wise?
Mongo:  (hefts his hammer)  I can't speak to the healing part, but I can
  cover the brute-force side of things.
Belphanior:  We'll be fine.  (he raises his voice and points to the
  nearby gateway)  We're leaving shortly.  Make whatever preparations
  you need to.
Otto:  (opens a large chest that he brought here recently)  Oil...check.
  Holy water, check.  Spare bolts...oh, I don't need those anymore.
Razor Charlie:  (retrieves some blade oil and goes to work on one of his
  throwing knives, more out of compulsion than anything else)

  Before long, the adventurers had begun their next journey, stepping
through the mist-filled stone arch and into the unknown...

Belphanior:  (looks around)  Hmm.

  The elf was standing in a small pentagonal chamber, each of its walls
about twenty feet long (which made the room almost forty feet across.)
The gateway arch itself was built into one of the five walls, and was
constructed of smooth, gleaming black stone.  Each of the other four
walls contained a similar arch, except that these weren't gateways -
they led into other rooms.  The main chamber's ceiling was a strange
intersection of the room's five seams, a sort of angular dome.
  The others arrived in turn, to find Belphanior eyeing the four rooms
through their arches.

Belphanior:  No souls here, and no noise or movement.  But I do sense
  quite a bit of magic in the other chambers.
Otto:  Those golems in the last place didn't have souls.  We need to be
Mongo:  To hell with that.  I'll smash anything that gets in our way!
Skektek:  We've got plenty of brawn and magic, that's for sure.
Belphanior:  And years of experience to go with it, and guide it.  (he
  nods)  Let's move out, but be cautious.  We'll explore these four
  chambers one at a time.  Skektek, Charlie - stay in this main chamber,
  just in case.  I don't want anyone or anything to get between us and
  the gateway.
Skektek:  (grumbling under his breath as the others move into the first
  of the connecting rooms)

  This proved to be a fairly routine gateway-dungeon, at least compared
to some of the others they'd explored.  Each of the four adjoining rooms
was identical:  twenty feet square, with a raised dais holding a black
stone pedestal.  In each case, the pedestal held something; in each case,
a thin layer of mist surrounded each pedestal.

wispy thing:  (hovers near the translucent vertical "barrier" of mist)

  Whatever the mist was, it vanished as soon as anyone neared it.  This
happened in all four cases, and the mist stayed gone; they eventually
decided that it was some sort of alert mechanism, rather than a defense.

Belphanior:  Hopefully, with the lich gone, there's nobody to alert.
Otto:  That's all we need...some more evil cronies showing up to fight.
Mongo:  Hey, let 'em come.

  The first room's pedestal held a gigantic black ruby, a gemstone as
big as a large man's fist, and which glowed with eerie crimson hues when
light was applied to it.  The stone was found resting atop a small pad of
red velvet.  The second room's pedestal was adorned with a short noose
of thick, well-worn rope.  This length of knotted, looped rope simply
rested atop the stone pedestal.  The third room contained a broken stone,
about a foot long, almost that wide, and several inches thick.  This
thing was fashioned in the shape of a crude tablet, and its top face was
covered with strange runes.  The break between the two pieces was clean,
and they looked as if they'd fit together seamlessly.

Elgon:  Then why hasn't someone done that already...?

  The fourth chamber's pedestal held a large cylindrical object of black
metal, about five feet high and two feet wide.  Its top end was clearly
some sort of removable lid, though it appeared to be well-sealed.  Having
seen all of this, the group reconvened to discuss the options.  Physical
and magical examinations were undertaken, a careful process that took the
better part of an hour and severely taxed the patience of those who had
little to offer such a process...

Mongo:  (to Razor Charlie)  This sucks.
Razor Charlie:  (nods)  Mm-hmm.
Mongo:  You don't talk much, do you?
Razor Charlie:  Nope.

  Eventually, it was determined that all four of the strange objects
were highly magical.  In addition, three of them - the black ruby, the
noose, and rune-stone - were safe to remove from their pedestals and
chambers.  The cylinder of black metal, however, radiated magic and evil
in quantities high enough to discourage the adventurers.

Belphanior:  -agreed.  Until we know what it is, taking it is far too
  dangerous.  Something that powerful yet also that evil is bound to be
Skektek:  But surely we could blast it if something-
Belphanior:  What if it contains something that's completely immune to
Mongo:  (hefts his warhammer)  Then we smash it!
Belphanior:  And what if it's also immune to physical harm?  A vampiric
  mist, for instance?  (he shakes his head)  No, I don't want to risk it
  until we've got Jenna, and maybe Parekh and Neera.  In a place like
  this, given some of the things we've found in other places like this...
  if there's this much doubt about something, then we leave it alone.
  (he looks around)  Besides, it's not like we can't come back later.

  The three items were carefully packed and stashed in Belphanior's
portable hole, and the entire complex was searched again for other exits
or hidden chambers.  There were none, however, and the group prepared to
leave via the gateway.

Mongo:  Are we going to another one of these?
Belphanior:  I think we can explore one more today.  (he looks around)
  Any thoughts on this?
Otto:  Fine by me.  The more we get done today, the less we have to do
Skektek:  And the closer we are to being done.
Razor Charlie:  (shrugs)
Elgon:  Sure, what's one more dungeon?  I say we go for it.
wispy thing:  yrrrp.
Belphanior:  Very well.  (he adjusts the metallic rune-dial)  The two
  remaining destinations have the runes "blood" and "moon" and I'd like
  to get "blood" out of the way.
Elgon:  That sounds rather ominous.
Belphanior:  We'll soon see.  (he watches as the stone archway changes
  into vapor, and then he steps forward into the mists)

next:       a somewhat more challenging destination
released:   11/4/05
notes:      Two more to go.

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