Chapter #960

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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       +
+   1991-2007 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              +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven warrior                             +
+   Neera          11th level human female sage/astrologer                +
+   Otto           10th/13th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  11th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        13th level human wizard                                +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   Date:          12/2/580 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late afternoon                                         +
+   Place:         the Black Crown, within the Corusk Mountains           +
+   Climate:       extremely cold                                         +
+   "This is not a threat.  This is an opportunity."                      +
+                                                    - from _X-Men 2_     +

                   CMLX.  The Secrets of Kronos

  After more than a little searching and the capture of the skyship by
external forces, the adventurers now find themselves in the central
tower of the remote mountain fortress called the Black Crown...

voice:  You must forgive me if these furnishings are spartan.  It has
  been quite a long time since I have had...guests.

  The speaker had, not surprisingly, appeared from nowhere.  He was of
average height and build, and garbed in a hooded grey robe.  The only
visible flesh - that of his face and hands - was chalk-white.  As they
watched, he drew back his hood, revealing a bald head, a strong face,
and eyes that were blood-red.

Belphanior:  Kronos, I presume?
Kronos:  (nods)  You people certainly are persistent.
Mongo:  Hey, we just don't know any better-
Belphanior:  (to Mongo)  I'll parley with him, thanks.
Kronos:  How very odd...have you any idea what you wear about your waist,
  young one?
Mongo:  (realizes that the lich is talking to him)  Huh?
Kronos:  Or that armor...simply amazing.  The Coat of Arnd, the Belt
  of the Titans, and also a most unusual hammer.  (he regards Stormcrest)
  That weapon is certainly not from Oerth, yet it has bonded to...hmmm.
  Quite interesting.
Belphanior:  Pardon me, but we're not here to talk about Mongo's weapons
  and armor.
Kronos:  Perhaps you should be.  It is nothing short of wondrous, for a
  single being to possess all three of those items.  Armies could fall
  before his might.
Belphanior:  Well, actually, they have.
Mongo:  Yeah!
Kronos:  Then the items are working as designed.  (to Belphanior)  As, I
  suspect, is the sword you carry.
Belphanior:  It's served me well over the years.
Kronos:  Of that, I have no doubt.  (he fixes the elf with a baleful gaze
  from his crimson eyes)  Why did you insist on pursuing me here, after
  being warned not to do so?
Belphanior:  Probably the same reason you're talking with us, rather
  than starting a fight.  We may have something to offer one another.
Kronos:  Indeed.  You already seem to have appropriated my skyship, and
  something else...ah yes, my portable temporal manipulator.
Razor Charlie:  (frowns, wondering what the hell this guy is talking
wispy thing:  (regarding the lich, it makes an odd face)  sprrd.
Belphanior:  (stares at Kronos)  I found and claimed these items, and if
  I hadn't, someone else would have.
Kronos:  Quite possibly, but they are still not yours.
Belphanior:  Then you shouldn't have left them lying around in that tomb
  in the Cairn Hills...which brings me to another question:  what in the
  hell was going on there, anyway?
Kronos:  Therein lies a tale.
Belphanior:  And come to think of it, you don't really look much like a
  lich, either.  Something's not right here.
Kronos:  We have much to discuss - and I doubt your companions would
  derive any enjoyment out of the discourse.  (he looks up and to his
  left, suddenly)  Excuse me one moment.  (he closes his eyes and mutters
  some arcane words)

  They could swear that the very air around the lich shimmered with a
mighty, unknown power...or perhaps it did, for the tower wall opened up
to the outside again, admitting an airborne and fuming Skektek.

Skektek:  What the hell's the meaning of...oh.
Belphanior:  Welcome back.
Skektek:  (notices the lich)  I was just flying around out there, minding
  my own business and trying to avoid any stray white dragons, when-
Kronos:  (waves his hand, and the wall seals itself up again)
Skektek:  This sure doesn't look like a battle.
Belphanior:  No need to worry - we were just talking.
Kronos:  And talk we must.  Your henchpeople can feel free to remain
  here and rest while we discuss certain matters.
Mongo:  Hey, I'm not a-
Belphanior:  Please.  (he puts a hand on the dwarf's shoulder)  We all
  know that you're not a henchman.
Mongo:  Okay, okay.
Kronos:  I have nothing to offer you in the way of food, drink, or
  other entertainment - since I no longer require such things, nor is
  there anyone here who does - but I suspect you will find it less cold
  in here than out there.  (he glares at all of them)  Do not wander
  away.  It would be...unhealthy.
Otto:  You heard him, people.  Let's take a break here while Belphanior
  has words with our host.  (to Belphanior)  Be careful.
Belphanior:  (nods)
Kronos:  (without saying anything, he turns and walks over to the door
  leading out of this chamber)
Belphanior:  (watches the door open by itself, then realizes that he's
  supposed to be following the lich)  Oh.  (to the other adventurers)
  I'll be back shortly.  Stay alert and ready for anything.

  The elf followed Kronos through a short, curved hallway and into an
adjacent room; this area was smaller and contained a table of solid
black stone.  Around the table were several chairs, as well as a large
seat of gray metal, in which Kronos now sat.

Kronos:  (motions to the other chairs)  Please.
Belphanior:  (takes a seat, but doesn't get comfortable)  Okay, I have
  to admit, I'm a little confused here.
Kronos:  So many questions, I am sure.  Let me first ask the single most
  important one:  why are you here?
Belphanior:  No bullshit - I like that.
Kronos:  I ceased to have time for such things several centuries ago.
  You may someday be able to make such claims, if you live that long.
Belphanior:  And why wouldn't I?
Kronos:  Because you tend to pursue and sometimes antagonize legendary
  beings of great power.  (he spreads his hands)  Of course, that is
  just one example of many.
Belphanior:  Point taken.  (he regards the other)  Are you actually
  keeping an eye on events in the outside world?
Kronos:  Of course.  Just because I prefer isolation and remote places
  does not negate my need to know various things that are happening on
Belphanior:  I'll just bet.
Kronos:  You have not answered the question.  What is so important that
  you are willing to journey all the way up here, in my own skyship, to
  seek me out?
Belphanior:  (clears his throat, and cracks his knuckles)  All right,
  then, here it is:  I know where Al-arakara is, and I know a way that
  you can sneak up on him, probably surprise him, and gain the upper
Kronos:  (crosses his arms, his eyes glowing bright red)  Al-arakara.
Belphanior:  (finds himself unable to match the other's gaze)
Kronos:  (leans forward)  And what makes you think that I need any such
  advantage to confront and overwhelm that foe?
Belphanior:  Err...well, according to the legends, and the research we
  did, he apparently bested you, six hundred years ago.  I figured that
  was how you ended up in that tomb.
Kronos:  Amazing.  Events of the past are often like seeds:  they can
  be planted, and one never knows if something will grow, or what it
  will look like, or how far it will spread.
Belphanior:  Meaning...?
Kronos:  It is true that the mummy king and I were bitter adversaries,
  and it is true that we had a great battle, and it is true that I was
  not quite victorious.  I will spare you the details; suffice it to say
  that I had to retreat, and was weakened to such an extent that I had
  to conceal myself, rest, and regain my strength over a period of time.
Belphanior:  Six hundred years?
Kronos:  (shrugs)  It was a difficult battle.
Belphanior:  So when we found you in that tomb...
Kronos:  I had slumbered for longer than I intended, and those defenses
  I set about my resting place were not all functional any longer.  It
  bothered me that two people were able to find the tomb, enter it, and
  defeat all of my guardians.
Belphanior:  Well, Otto and I take pride in our work.
Kronos:  And then to see yet another band of fools enter my tomb...and
  _dare_ to do battle there...(he makes a fist)  No doubt you can deduce
  the outcome of that battle.
Belphanior:  Well, that one escaped, and actually came back to bother
  me again...but he's worm food now.  (he frowns)  Which reminds me of
  my other major question-
Kronos:  Ah, yes.  Am I a lich, or am I living?
Belphanior:  (doesn't bother to mention that his sword detects a soul
  like any other, from this being)  Don't ask me, because I sure don't
Kronos:  I underwent the process and effects of lichdom, it is true...
  but my area of magical interest is time, as you are well aware.  (he
  crosses his arms)  And he who controls time can control its effects,
  such as bodily decay.
Belphanior:  You're undead, but you're keeping yourself from rotting
Kronos:  It is a bit more complicated than that, but your explanation
  will suffice as well as any.  Unfortunately, the negative forces that
  constantly tear at this physical form are powerful, and fighting them
  back is a constant, taxing effort.  That is why I prefer solitude in
  remote places such as this.
Belphanior:  (idly wondering if Blackrazor would be able to steal the
  lich's soul)  Oh.
Kronos:  I also find the struggle less painful in very cold climates.
Belphanior:  Ah.  So you hide out here, doing whatever it is you do, and
  let the nearby towns come up with their own legends, wives' tales, and
Kronos:  I do nothing to encourage any tales that would draw attention
  to me.  Fortunately, these mountains are filled with all sorts of wild
  beasts that do a good job of keeping unwanted visitors away.
Belphanior:  Well, if you don't want to face Al-arakara, I can gather my
  people and leave-
Kronos:  I think not.  (his eyes begin to glow again)  The mummy-king and
  I have a reckoning that is long past due.  By your words
  and actions today, it is clear that you wish to be part of that battle.
Belphanior:  Let's just say I have my own reasons for wanting Al-arakara
  out of the way.
Kronos:  That one is no simple foe - he has many powers, and many wiles,
  and many underlings.
Belphanior:  So do I.  Trust me on this.  We can definitely fight fire
  with fire.
Kronos:  I am not one for alliances...and yet, your group has several
  rather powerful individuals who might be of use in such a conflict.
Belphanior:  Well, thanks.
Kronos:  This is no time for sarcasm.  Extremely powerful individuals
  never form alliances for friendship - they use one another.  It is a
  simple fact, and a true one.
Belphanior:  I look at it a different way:  the enemy of my enemy is my
Kronos:  If that suits you.  (he stands)  I must contemplate all that we
  have discussed, but my tentative answer is yes - we shall join forces
  to rid Oerth of Al-arakara, once and for all.
Belphanior:  (smiles thinly)

next:       the plan
released:   3/9/07
notes:      I don't script these long, meaningful conversations between
  the protagonists and other powerful beings...I have a general idea of
  what will be said and what the outcome will be, but other than that I
  just tend to let it flow and write it the way I think an actual talk
  between those individuals would progress.

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