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The Return of Radby Ripvanwormer
"I owe you a great debt," Etienne told his liberators. "More than I can ever repay, perhaps. But please, do me the honor of accepting this modest domicile, to keep and sell as you wish. The horses you ride are yours as well."
"We accept, with thanks," said the party leader after briefly conferring with her associates. "But what's next for you?"
"I have a decision to make," said Etienne. With a single word, he vanished.
On another plane, rivers of light and color poured from glowing dunes and shining forests of crystals before coming together in a spiraling pool of luminescence. On the shore of this body of light was a sprawling chateau built in the style of Old Averoigne.
Within the chateau, a circle of sigils was spelled out in precious gems embedded on the floor of a study. Etienne appeared in the center in a flash of magic.
"My lord," said the magen servitor who had waited, with infinite patience, in the very spot Etienne had left it years before. "I never gave up hope that I would see you return."
"Of course you didn't," sighed Etienne. "I created you to hope."
"Would you like me to bring you some wine? Draw you a bath?"
"Both would be fine," said the archmage.
"Right away, my lord."
"But this rough magic I here abjure," murmured Etienne softly.
Etienne chuckled. "Something someone from my original world once said when he renounced magic. Prospero, his name was. '...Iíll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound Iíll drown my book.' I couldn't imagine anyone doing that. My family abandoned our world rather than do that. And yet here I am, considering just such an act."
"My lord, surely you wouldn't abandon your magic..."
"No. But the Radiance... Do you know what this place is?"
"It is your chateau, my lord. On the shore of the Pool of Luminescence."
"Do you know what the Pool of Luminescence is?"
"...No, my lord."
"It's a nexus point. A confluence where the energies of multiple planes of existence run together. Such things are rare and fleeting, in nature, but this one was stabilized by my Immortal will. This is the only point in the Multiverse where the power of the Radiance on Mystara joins with the raw forces of the Sphere of Energy."
"Your powers are great, my lord."
"My powers *were* great. Perhaps they still are, by mortal standards. But I am diminished. My Immortality was stripped from me by the Old Ones. And here I stand, at another kind of nexus. A confluence of fate."
"I have a decision to make, magen. I could embrace the Radiance once again, don again the mantle of Immortality. But there is a price. The first time I became Immortal, I didn't understand what the price would be. Now I do."
"A price, my lord?"
"The Nucleus of the Spheres is also a nexus. The Old Ones made it an axis mundi, a navel of the world. The planes and dimensions are bound to it. Disturbing it causes aberrations."
"Indeed. When I first tapped into the Radiance, it distorted reality. Over time, magic itself was lessened. The world still hasn't recovered. During the crisis, some... friends of mine managed to reroute it. But even that has consequences. Too little death could have calamitous effects on the world's ecology. And so I must decide. Do I break my staff and drown my book? Even without Immortality, I still have power. I have an academy and a nation at my beck and call. I have access to the many planes and worlds. Do you know of the Believers of the Source, the Godsmen?"
"You have entertained emmisaries from that faction at your chateau, my lord."
"Yes. They share with me a sense that mortals can and should improve themselves, reach beyond mortality and strive for something greater. They wondered if the Radiance I watched over was the great cosmic Source of their beliefs. In my pride and arrogance, I told them that I believed it was. Now I wonder. Perhaps with them, and other groups like them, I could search for the true mystery beyond the Radiance. Perhaps the Radiance was a test that I failed. I wonder if the Nucleus of the Spheres was not a tool to be used, but a temptation to be avoided, a false bauble distracting me from discovering the true Source."
"Regardless of your decision, I am here to help you in all things, my lord."
Etienne looked at his servant, at its all-too-perfect humanoid form. "Is that what you are for? Perhaps that was where I first went wrong. I hoped to uplift humanity, but I failed to uplift my own creations."
Etienne touched the magen's forehead. "You, too, should strive for something greater. Greater than me. You, too, should have decisions to make. Magen, do as thou wilt."