Chapter 56

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               Navero, male human cleric, 6th level
               Dania, female 1/2-elf MU, 5th level
               Kortul, male human fighter, 6th level
               Kory, male elf bard, 5th level
               Topash, male elf druid, 5th level
               Serga, male half-ogre fighter, 4th level
               Lao Tsu, male human monk, 4th level

At the next convenient fork in the road, we went west, hoping thereby
to eventually reach the sea and a port.  There wasn't much chance
anyone there would know about the Orb of Spheres, but ideas were
getting very slim, so we didn't look down on the one sensible one we'd
had for a long time.  The west road wasn't a particularly good one,
being narrow and highly sloped, and with an uncharacteristic number of
rocks hidden under the snow, but it was a road going in about the
right direction, so it would do.
     We traveled on the road for four more days, riding into tall,
rocky hills.  For all that time, the surrounding area got increasingly
bleak, the road increasingly bad, and all signs of any animal life
around us rarer and rarer.  And there were no signs that anyone else
had traveled this road for a long time.  The snow was undisturbed, and
in some places came up to our horse's chests.  Then, one day, we
passed into an area where the hills were so tall, almost vertical
walls beside the path, that the snow had accumulated between them
until it was up above our heads.

Kortul: (Looks over wall of snow.) "Turn back.  Nothing here."

Dania: "Is there any way we could get that shit out of the way?"

Kory: "No.  Now please, lets get back to a road that's had some people
     on it before my toes freeze off."

Dania: "There's got to be something back there."

Kory: "Like what?!  No one's been there in months, maybe years, the
     only thing it could be is an old mine, or an abandoned castle, or
     some shit like that."

Topash: "Gosh, those all sound like good dungeon opportunities."

Kory: "Of course, but can't we at least go adventuring somewhere where
     it's warm?"

Dania: "Maybe there'll be a nice dragon there.  That'll warm you up.
     Hey, let's back up a ways.  I'm gonna try a Fireball."

Kory: "Oh, God, please, take me now..."

Kortul: (Goes back up the road with uncharacteristic speed.)

Dania: "Hey!  Come on.  We're out in the open, there's plenty of space
     for it to fill."

     Everyone backed up the path about 40 feet (some of us more), and
Dania cast her spell.  The little pea-sized ball shot out, right
between the hills, then burst into a huge explosion, sending snow,
water, steam, and bits of rock spraying out in every direction.

Dania: "All right!"

Kory: "I'm drenched!"

Topash: "You are not.  Especially since you were standing farther away
     from the blast than any of us."

Kory: "With good reason, I might add."

Navero: "Is the snow out of the way?"

Kortul: "Yes."

Dania: "It's all clear.  Let's go."

     The rocks in the hill faces were warmed up a bit by the fire, so
we paused in the gap to make minor repairs, re-wrap the horse's legs,
or just look around.  While we were milling about, enjoying the
absence of snow, Topash noticed something on one of the walls.

Topash: "Hello, what's this?"

Navero: "That's a rock in the hillside."

Topash: "Yes, it looks that way.  But if you put your hand on it,
     you'll realize it is slightly warmer than the surrounding rocks,
     and it gives under pressure."

Lao Tsu: "A walm lock?  Sulery, you hav heald what the gleat mastel
     has said about..."

Topash: "Yes, yes, I'm sure he said something very nice, but I believe
     we have a concealed entrance here."

Dania: "Are you sure that isn't just from the fireball?"

Topash: "The fireball would not make the rock push in.  I suspect it's
     an old secret door, which your fireball jostled loose."

Navero: "Why would someone put a secret door out here?"

Dania: "Huh.  You know, it looks like it might be a door.  Can you see
     any way to open it?"

Kory: "Of course!  It's the secret entrance to a vast, underground
     castle full of treasure and monsters, of course!  If we're in
     luck, and I think we are, it'll have central heating."

Topash: "I don't see any triggers.  But Kory may be partially right.
     Castle owners often put in an escape tunnel, ending in a secret
     entrance a long way away.  Problem is, the entrance of such a
     tunnel would be made to open from the inside, not the outside."

Serga: "Is there a castle around here?"

Topash: "That's the other problem."

Kory: "Here, let me see that door.  Ah ha!  No, I don't see a way in
     either.  Serga!"

Serga: "What?"

Kory: "Try leaning on that and see if it caves in."

Topash: "Kory, that is ridiculous.  No, it isn't.  Serga?"

Serga: (Pushes on door.) "It doesn't."

Kory: "Push harder."

Serga: (Leans into it hard, with all his weight.) "It kind of bends in
     a little, but I'd have to hit it hard."

Kory: "Tough door."

Dania: "Hey, it's at least partially rock.  Kortul, can you and Serga
     work on that thing together?"

Kortul: "It's not that wide."

Dania: "Topash, can you, like, make vines grow and rip it out?"

Topash: (Blink.) "Dania, the ground is frozen, and there aren't any
     vines around here anyway."

Navero: "Maybe if we can find the edges, we can pry it open."

Kory: "Hey, Serga.  Try hitting the door."

Serga: "Ok."  (Hits door, bounces off.)

Kory: "Very tough door."

Topash: "There has to be an easy way to do this."

Dania: "Like a Knock spell."

Topash: "Which you don't know, I take it?"

Navero: "Didn't we find a scroll with that on it a long time ago?"

Kory: "Yeah, didn't we?  Oh, Dania?"

Dania: "Ack. Um... (goes through her pack) Yeah, I got it." (unrolls
     scroll, prepares to read.)

Topash: "All right, everyone; before we burn the scroll, are we sure
     we want to go in there?"

Kory: "Yes!  Why would someone put a secret door out in the middle of
     nowhere?  Obviously, because they're hiding something really
     really valuable!  Where's your sense of curiosity?  The way you
     talk, it's as numb as my feet."

Topash: "Any other votes?"

Navero: "What do we do with the horses?"

Dania: "Take 'em inside?"

Kory: "They'll be here when we come back."

Topash: "I think they'd starve to death.  We'll have to get them
     inside the door and leave their food for them.  Dania?"

Dania: "Right." (Casts Knock.)

     With a groan, and a shower of chips of stone, the door creaked
open, and a gust of warm, stale air wafted out.  It smelled pretty
bad, too - like something rotten, but very old or very far away.
Inside, there was a small chamber with some boxes and a chest against
the walls, and a dark, wide hallway going back and down, into the
earth beyond the hill.
     Getting the horses in was a bit of an effort, but not much of
one.  They didn't seem to like the smell, but once they were in, the
surprising warmth of the chamber (it might have been 50 degrees in
there) seemed to satisfy them.  While Dania and Topash got the gear
off and set up feed bags, everyone else went to look at the boxes.
There were four, wide and long, made of wood, and unlocked.  The lone
chest was also large, and had a lock.  All of them looked to be in
pretty good shape, though covered with dust.
     An inspection for traps and magical thingies turned up nothing on
the boxes, but the chest was locked and radiated magic, both itself
and its contents.  We looked in the boxes first.  The first one we
looked in was lined with lead, and full of jars containing a variety
of powders.  Some smelled funny, and others burned our eyes when we
got too close, but no one could easily identify any of them.
     The second box was full of huge gold and silver bars.  This was a
surprise; we were more accustomed to coinage, and even then rarely in
such a quantity.  The silver also looked curiously untarnished; it
might have actually been platinum.  This box we marked and left as it
was; even Dania didn't need convincing that we couldn't possibly carry
it all.  Well, not much convincing.

Dania: "Maybe if we put the platinum bars in the saddle bags?  We've
     got all of our shit out of them now, there's room."

Topash: "Dania, let the horses rest."

Dania: "No, just put it in the bags!  That way, if we have to leave
     fast, we can just grab 'em and go!"

Kory: "'Pash, you better let her.  She's not gonna shut up until you
     do.  Here.  You may have five bars, four gold and one platinum,
     provided you can lift them and put them in your bags yourself."

Dania: "Hey, come on, guys!  That box has more gold in it than we
     found in the whole last two dungeons.  Now, the box looks strong
     enough to hold it all, let's try putting it on Serga's horse."

Serga: "My horse gets tired just with me."

Navero: "Dania, I think it might be a nice idea to look in the other
     boxes first.  There might be something better in them."

Dania: "Not likely.  Only the chest had magic on it.  Give me one of
     those bars, I'll put it in my bag."

Kortul: (Smirks a bit.  He's tried to lift one himself.)

Topash: "Oh, very well.  Put it in your saddlebags, then."

Dania: (Grabs bar, but it remains firmly inside the box.  Strains,
     grunts, manages to walk it to the edge of the box, where it falls
     to the floor with a CLANG.) "Uh... shit, that's a lot of gold."

Lao Tsu: "Desiree callies with it its leward."

Kory: "Shall we keep looking?"

Dania: "Maybe a Tenser's Floating Disk..."

Topash: "Do you wish to maintain it all the way back to civilization?"

Dania: "Mmm."

     The third box contained several dozen scrolls.  None of them were
magical, though, curiously enough.  All of them looked like deeds for
land, proclamations of law, certificates of ownership, and other such
paperwork.  A few of the land deeds were in areas we'd traveled
through.  Most of them were written very professionally on quality
vellum, with all sorts of official-looking stamps and seals.  For the
property, several different owner's names were mentioned.

Kory: "Hmm!  Whoever owns this is rich as hell.  These properties are
     all over the place."

Navero: "What's a 'Proclamationof Jurisprudential Exception'?"

Dania: "Very valuable.  It's something issued by big governments.  If
     you commit a crime within their borders, you just show the paper
     and you're cleared of all charges."

Navero: "What crimes?"

Dania: "Any crimes.  That's why it's worth so much."

Kory: "Kewlness!  Hmmm, it was issued by King Schmendrik IV.  Didn't
     he die a while back?"

Topash: "Yes, if you consider 30 years a while.  Our host should keep
     his files more up-to-date."

     There wasn't anything in the box we could really use.  The fourth
box was completely empty, so we turned our attention to the chest.

Navero: "Now, you said this chest was magical."

Dania: "No, probably not.  It's just got some kind of protective spell
     on it, like a ward or a symbol or something."

Topash: "Can you get rid of it?"

Dania: "I don't even recognize it.  Whoever made it knew a hell of a
     lot more than I do.  I could just try Dispel Magic."

Topash: "Would that affect the contents?"

Dania: "Sure hope not.  Shall I go for it?"

Navero: "Would getting rid of it alert the person who owns it?"

Topash: "No, he's probably dead now.  You've seen the dust here."

Kory: "Ah, I hate to break this to you, but some of those documents
     were dated within the last month.  They've been accessed very
     recently, and whoever did it didn't disturb the dust."

Kortul: (Frowns.)

Serga: "He must be really sneaky."

Lao Tsu: "It is said that a tlue mastel of Zen may wark the rength of
     a scloll of lice papel, and reave no tlace of his plesence."

Kory: "Somehow, I don't think your average zen master would bother
     with property and titles.  This guy must be a wizard."

Dania: "We find a magically-guarded chest, and you figure the owner
     must be a wizard.  Brilliant.  He's probably teleporting things
     in and out of these boxes without ever coming near them."

Navero: "Maybe we shouldn't take anything?  If he notices its gone,
     he'll come looking for us."

Topash: "A very, very, very wise suggestion.  Whoever it is seems to
     be fairly powerful, and it would be wise to be cautious.  Dania,
     don't do anything to the chest, and Serga, could you please put
     Dania's gold ingot back and close the lid on that box?"

Serga: "Sure."

Dania: "This doesn't make sense.  I haven't heard of any high wizards
     living in the area."

Topash: "That doesn't mean there isn't one.  Or that he won't be upset
     if we crawl into his underground castle through his back door.  I
     think it would be a good idea if we turned around and went right
     back where we came from."

Kory: "WHAT!?  Oh, come on.  We're adventurers!  Let's have an
     adventure already!  Besides, it's bound to be warmer inside."

Topash: "Kory, 'Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are
     subtle and quick to anger.'  I vote we go and look for the Orb

Kory: "Nah.  Let's ask the wizard if he knows where it is."

Topash: "After breaking into his house?!"

Dania: "Maybe we won't meet him at all.  Just stay quiet and calm and
     don't go breaking anything."

Kory: "Yeah!  Hear that, Serga?  Try to be quiet and subtle."

Serga: "How?"

Kory: "Just try it.  You'll get the hang of it."

Topash: "Gentlemen, and lady, I think you are forgetting something.  I
     do not want to end my life as a newt.  This idea is pointless and
     insane, we are going to get ourselves killed or worse."

Kortul: "Looked down corridor.  Goes down long ways, then levels off.
     Probably ends in basement."

Kory: "See!  Kortul went exploring, and nobody saw him.  And he can do
     it, anyone can.  Except maybe Serga.  Let's put it to a vote."

(Show of hands.  Kory, Kortul, and Dania vote to go in, Topash and
Navero vote to go back out.  Serga and Lao are unsure.)

Navero: "Serga, I don't think we should go in there.  We don't know
     what's there."

Kory: "Has that ever stopped us before?!  We're SUPPOSED to go bravely
     into the unknown."

Dania: "Besides, if we don't know what wizard built this place, he
     must be hiding something down there."

Kory: "Or just hiding, in which case, it's an evil wizard."

Topash: "That's supposed to make me feel better?"

Serga: (Scratches head, looks very confused.) "I don't know."

Lao Tsu: "Oh most honolabre companions, I have leached a decision.  I
     wirr go with you down into the magician's cave."

Kory: "Awright!  Kortul, take the lead, Nav, start making a map."

Topash: "Lao, what are you doing?"

Lao Tsu: "I see you ale confused by my decision.  I thought of evely
     leason not to do this thing, and thele wele many.  I have thought
     of evely leason to do this thing, and thele wele none.  So, I
     wirr do this thing."

Topash: "What?"

Lao Tsu: "Such is the way of Zen."

Topash: (Closes eyes.) "Never mind.  I think any further explanations
     would only make my head hurt."

Daniel Parsons                     "One must try to avoid the trap of            linear thinking."
                                   "Oh, silly me, of course.  And here
                                    I was worrying about the traps
                                    that drive spikes up your ass."

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