Chapter #1000

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                           +                   +
                         +                       +
                       +      THE ADVENTURERS      +
                         +                       +
                           +       Epic V      +
                             +               +
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+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+     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       +
+   1991-2016 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     18th/18th/18th level elven fighter/wizard/thief        +
+   Hope           16th level female human wizard                         +
+   Irina          7th/14th level female human warrior/priestess          +
+   Neera          12th level female human wizard (sage/astrologer)       +
+   Otto           12th/14th level dwarven fighter/thief                  +
+   Razor Charlie  12th level human fighter                               +
+   Skektek        14th level human wizard                                +
+   Ys             14th level reptilian fighter                           +
+   wispy thing    strange, intangible sentient being                     +
+                                                                         +
+   Alindyar       18th level dark elven wizard                           +
+   Lyra           14th level female drow wizard                          +
+   Mongo          19th level dwarven fighter                             +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   Date:          5/28/581 C.Y. (Common Year)                            +
+   Time:          late morning                                           +
+   Place:         the sky castle, in the clouds above Oerth's surface    +
+   Climate:       chilly but sunny                                       +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
+   "What is it you want?"                                                +
+   "I want it all."                                                      +
+                     - Cobra Commander, from _G.I. Joe:  Retaliation_    +
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++





                             M.  Retribution





  An entire week has passed since Belphanior and his companions defeated
the reclusive purple dragon Mesoloth and discovered its vast treasure
hoard in a hidden subterranean cavern.  It has taken all that time, with
everyone working constantly, to transport the treasure back to the sky
castle.

Mongo:  (eyeing the sizable heap of recovered treasure, he tugs on his
  beard, grinning)  It wasn't like we really had anything better to do.
Belphanior:  I know what you mean.  It's difficult to delay the taking
  of hard-won riches back to one's home.
Skektek:  I'm surprised you didn't just kill Balthus.
Belphanior:  (glares at the wizard)
Skektek:  I'm kidding...kidding!  (mumbling)  But at least a thorough
  mind-wiping...
Belphanior:  No.  He didn't see the sky castle, because we kept him out
  of here.  Besides, he did his part, and we made an agreement with him
  from the outset.

  To be sure, the tracker's final share had been one-tenth of Mesoloth's
treasure, not one-ninth as originally discussed.  This was due to Mongo
being present; the price for his assistance had been an equal share of
the dragon's hoard.  Belphanior had no regrets about this deal; the elf
already had more gold than he could ever spend, and had recently come
to realize that such amounts of money were really only a means to other
ends...such as buying land, or rare and powerful magical items, or even
assistance on quests.  Balthus had become, literally overnight, a very
rich man, and had seemed happy about the idea of never having to work
another day in his life.  In fact, he hadn't even wanted to return to
the Grand Duchy of Geoff when Belphanior offered, preferring instead
to be taken to Nyrond with his riches.  The tracker had said something
about starting a new life in a place without problems or challenges, so
they had thanked him for his help, wished him well, and deposited him in
that kingdom's splendid capital city, Rel Mord.
  Alindyar, for his part, had wanted only the thin spellbook and jar of
dust found in Xusia's vault - these being the key components to casting
one of the supremely rare and powerful spells known as a "true dweomer".
Belphanior's original offer to the dark elf had been the paintbrush that
could manipulate reality in the right hands, but Alindyar had pointed out
that this particular item had already been given to him in the past, for
another favor.  For his part, Belphanior hadn't been happy to relinquish
items that held the secrets to spells whose power was an entire order of
magnitude greater than those commanded by archmagi...but that was what
Alindyar wanted in exchange for putting his and Lyra's lives at risk in
a fight with an unknown species of dragon, and Belphanior had reluctantly
agreed to the pact.
  And that left the others with the remaining nine-tenths of the hoard...

Mongo:  (staring yet again at the huge pile of coins and other treasure
  in the courtyard of the sky castle)  This is a lot.  I mean, not the
  most I've ever seen, but still a lot.
Belphanior:  Do you want to do the usual deal, and forgo your share of
  the bulky treasure in favor of smaller, more portable things like
  gemstones and jewelry?
Mongo:  (shrugs)  I guess so.
Skektek:  (griping as he looks at the heaps of coins and other valuables)
  This has been a lot of work, you know.  Thousands of coins don't just
  count themselves.
Lyra:  I'm sure Bosco would have been happy to work on this for days on
  end, without sleep.
Otto:  Yeah, but then some of the shares would have been short.
Mongo:  No doubt about that.
Irina:  I'll have to meet this "Bosco" someday.  He sounds like quite a
  character.
Alindyar:  That halfling is one of a kind, no doubt.
Hope:  (to Irina)  A word of advice, though...after you meet Bosco, you'd
  do well to take stock of your valuables.  Just in case, you understand.
Irina:  I see.
Skektek:  (curses as he bumps into a small pile of coins, toppling it)
  Dammit!  Too much work...
Ys:  (cheerfully)  There are worse problems to have, my friends, than
  counting large piles of precious coins.
Skektek:  I'm just saying that someone really needs to invent a spell
  that counts out treasure shares equally, in these situations.
Neera:  (looking quite serious)  I could do that.

  Each of the ten shares (now nine, less what Balthus had walked with)
consisted more or less of the following:  two thousand coins each of
copper, silver, and gold plus almost a thousand of platinum...plus six
small ingots of silver and another three of gold...and a medium-sized
sack of gemstones and jewelry items.  There were also other things that
either weren't readily divisible or saleable (ornate furniture, a dozen
paintings and twice that many sculptures, silk and fabrics, barrels of
liquor, large blocks of rare stone) or seemingly without monetary value
(ancient coins of iron and brass and tin, crushed or rotted items).
  And then there were the magical items.  Belphanior had worked it out
with Balthus so that the tracker got most of the dozen potions, a ring,
a cloak, and a new longsword and dagger, those two weapons bearing fair
magical auras (meaning they were fine weapons, but without exceptional
extra properties).  That still left a number of magical items...all of
which had been examined and scried to determine their properties, and
then divided among the adventurers.

  Belphanior got the Seeking Scroll, which turned out to be a blank sheet
of translucent hide, carried within a tube of mithril.  The item, when
commanded to locate a person or thing, would magically draw a map on its
surface, guiding the user from their current location to the destination.
A quick test confirmed that the scroll worked, but further study would
be necessary to determine its exact capabilities and limitations.  The
elf didn't take any other magical items, as he wanted the others to have
the bulk of the spoils.  Besides, the scroll alone was enough for him.

  Hope chose a small, simple-looking treasure chest (measuring roughly
2' x 1' x 1') that was actually a much larger extradimensional space,
much like a bag of holding.  She also got a wand of conjuration, a potion
of ESP, and a scroll containing three spells of the guarding and warding
sort.

  Irina got a short section of green branch which held a single, large
thorn.  While it sounded simple and useless, this was actually a potent
druidic item that, when planted in dirt, would apparently spawn a huge
expanse of sharp, thorny growth.  The priestess also received a ring of
sustenance and two scrolls with clerical magic; the first of these held
six healing spells, while the second bore three spells against undead.

  Mongo only got two magical items, but one was quite handy:  a wooden
rod that pointed toward anything within a one-mile radius that its owner
would consider valuable.  The dwarf also obtained a small, moderately
enchanted hand axe.

  Neera got two magical items.  The first was an old but sturdy flying
carpet, big enough to hold two people and fairly speedy in the air; this
would take some practice to master, but would definitely come in handy in
the future.  The wizard also received a tiny mirror which, when looked
into by its bearer, generated a random number of magical duplicates, just
as the spell.  The advantage of the item was that its effect was instant
and no command words needed to be spoken.

  Otto chose a small cube of carven stone, which came inside a slightly
larger box of metal.  Without its protective container closed and sealed,
the stone cube generated a field of silence in a thirty-foot radius - a
most powerful weapon against spellcasting foes.  The dwarf also took four
enchanted crossbow bolts, as well as the final potion, one that granted
invisibility.

  Razor Charlie got an item that had no use in battle, but would come in
handy at other times:  a drinking horn that, when held with the open end
up, would always be full of delicious, potent ale.  He also took a pair
of boots of elvenkind and a mildly enchanted dagger.

  Skektek ended up with a coin that brought extreme good luck when its
owner gambled - something he surely intended to trade to someone like
Bosco in the near future - and a strange floating rock.  About the size
of a fist, this rough-hewn chunk of stone simply floated about four feet
above the ground or floor, and if moved higher or lower, it drifted back
to that altitude.  The wizard also got two scrolls.  One held five attack
spells, and the other held four spells having to do with earth and stone.

  Ys found himself the owner of two minor magical items.  One was a small
enchanted quartz figurine of a mule.  Similar to other such figurines of
animals, this one would transform into an actual packmule upon command,
which would do its master's bidding.  Ys' other treasure was a broken
dagger in two pieces (hilt and stub of blade, and actual blade).  This
weapon's powers were still undetermined, but the reptilian was figuring
on finding that out once the thing was repaired.

  There were also two cursed items and an evil one.  A small carving of
a bird held a powerful and malicious enchantment:  any ship aboard which
this item was taken would find its voyage fraught with problems.  There
was also a drum which, if struck thirteen times, would slay the user via
death magic.  The third, evil item was a small, jagged knife that would
bring a slow, painful death - not preventable with healing spells - to
anyone cut by its blade.  It seemed likely that all three of these rather
unpleasant items would be destroyed in short order.

Mongo:  (shakes his head)  I still don't see why that Balthus guy got
  _four_ actual magic items, plus most of the potions.
Belphanior:  It's simple.  Doing that for him kept him from realizing
  that he wasn't getting any of the most powerful stuff.  Besides, let's
  face it...who here really needed another longsword or dagger?  Show
  of hands?  (he sweeps the group with his gaze)  See what I mean?
Mongo:  (still grumbling a bit, but more or less satisfied)



  With the treasure division taken care of, those who needed to depart
prepared to do so...

Alindyar:  As always, our adventures with you have...not been boring.
Belphanior:  And I appreciate your help.  I doubt we could have beaten
  that dragon without you.
Lyra:  Don't be so sure.  You've got a good group here - powerful, and
  with a variety of skills.
Alindyar:  Let us not forget Mongo.  He, more than I, was crucial to
  victory in the battle.
Mongo:  (shrugs)  Always happy to help.
Belphanior:  We're glad that you did, my friend.
Mongo:  Anytime you want me to help you fight someone, and I can get a
  shitload of loot for it, feel free to call on me.
Belphanior:  I surely will.
Mongo:  And now...I'm going to find a nice, warm tavern somewhere, and
  eat three or four meals' worth of food all at once.

  The drow had offered to return Mongo to the surface world on their way
back to Greyhawk, and so within moments the three were gone, magically
transported out of the sky castle.  That left Belphanior's group behind,
where they prepared and then ate a hearty lunch, during which they not
only enjoyed good food and drink, but also good conversation.  After the
feasting was over, they split up - each to spend the remainder of their
day resting, counting their newfound wealth, resting while counting their
newfound wealth, or whatever else struck their fancy.  This meant some
long-overdue private time for Belphanior and Neera, locked away in their
chambers.  Hope busied herself reorganizing and packing her valuables in
her new magical treasure chest.  Irina lit some incense and prepared to
pray to her goddess.  Otto chose to take a nap.  Razor Charlie sharpened
his knives, a common activity for the warrior when he was bored.  Skektek
began experimenting with the odd floating stone he'd just gained as part
of his treasure share.  Ys made ready to eat a large, late lunch, as he'd
somehow forgotten to do so before the meeting to divide the treasure.  As
for the wispy thing, it occupied itself by flying rapidly and gleefully
(if randomly) through the passages and stairways of the sky castle.  The
hours passed, everyone enjoying the pleasant afternoon in his or her own
way...until it was interrupted.
  All of them, whatever they were doing, were equally surprised when the
entire castle suddenly trembled and shook, hard enough to knock people
from their feet.  When the first tremor was followed by a second impact
just moments later, everyone quickly met in the hallways...

Skektek:  What the hell's going on?
Otto:  Feels like an earthquake.
Belphanior:  (thinking of the tubes filled with blue gas, on the lowest
  level of the castle)  We need to check the magical gases in the bottom
  basement-
Ys:  (peering out of a window in the hallway)  I doubt that will be
  necessary.  I have found the problem.

  Indeed he had, though it was quite apparent for all to see once they
looked.  A gargantuan, winged purple form was assaulting the sky castle,
its vast bulk ramming into its invisible protective field a third time
now, knocking several of the adventurers from their feet as the entire
castle shook.  While the force-field was keeping the attacker out, its
enchantment didn't render it absolutely immobile relative to the world
around it...which meant that the sky castle, within this bubble, could
be rocked, or even pushed, by something sufficiently large and strong
enough.
  Three hundred feet of angry dragon definitely met those criteria.

Mesoloth's right head:  (roars in rage, while the other head lolls to
  the side, glassy-eyed)

  It had been a busy week for the dragon, since its apparent defeat at
the hands of the adventurers.  Mesoloth's plan, conceived immediately
after it first met Belphanior and the others, had been bold and daring,
but the wyrm had not thrived for over a thousand years without taking a
few risks.  Even as the mortals had departed the mountains, supposedly
to plan and execute the recovery of the Book of Infinite Spells from
Greyhawk, Mesoloth had also done some planning and preparation.  The
ancient beast's final goal was, of course, the gaining of more magic...
specifically magical items.  It was obvious, just from looking at them
and sensing the dweomers of their possessions, that the adventurers were
carrying significant amounts of powerful magical items.  And that meant
that there were even more that they hadn't brought with them.  And THAT
idea truly focused the old dragon's plans before the inevitable battle.
Mesoloth had encountered hundreds of adventurers in its lifetime, and it
knew how to read people...and its gut told it that Belphanior would be
trouble.  The subsequent planning had to account for a very real risk of
demise at the hands of the elf and his companions.  And to be sure, the
battle had not been without cost, for the dragon only had one functional
head now.  Its new body had been created via cloning magic decades ago
and kept in stasis, to be used via a very carefully-worded Wish spell,
only upon the old body perishing.  That had happened, but not before
Mesoloth's left head had been slain by the elf, its soul unexpectedly
destroyed by that foe's dark blade.  When the dragon's consciousness was
then immediately, magically transferred to the dragon's new body, hidden
away in a secret sealed underground site far from the primary lair...not
all of the wyrm made the transition.  The left head's soul, and therefore
consciousness (with all of its thoughts, memories, and experience) was
gone, and thus did not occupy the physical left head of the dragon's new
body.
  So Mesoloth's plan had gone horribly wrong, and loss turned to sorrow,
but eventually sorrow became rage.  And thus, as soon as the new body was
able - definitely not at full strength, but most of the way there - the
dragon had set out to locate the adventurers.  This had been trivial due
to a beaconing enchantment previously cast upon the Seeking Scroll (the
one item the dragon knew they sought).  The sky castle, while unable to
be attacked by conventional means, was not beyond the reach of an ancient
and powerful dragon.  Mesoloth had scouted first, in the shape of a bird,
and studied the force field around the floating castle, probing it for
weaknesses but finding none,  It had decided to assume its true form and
try a physical attack, just to see what would happen...and when the impact
shook the entire castle and the rock upon which it rested, the dragon knew
that it was only a matter of time.  This was like a cat shaking a sealed
birdcage to unsettle the prey within.  Mesoloth still wanted those magic
items - both its own which it had let the adventurers take as part of the
plan, and the dozens of new ones that they possessed - but first and most
importantly, it wanted revenge.

Mesoloth:  (hits the force-field again, causing loose objects throughout
  the castle to fall, including its occupants)
Otto:  (gets to his feet again)
Skektek:  It's that dragon!  How the hell...?
Belphanior:  It doesn't matter.  We've got to get out there and fight
  back!
Skektek:  But we can't do that without dropping the field, and then it
  will get in here and wreak even more havoc-  (he staggers as the castle
  shakes again, with another tremendous impact)
wispy thing:  (floating in the hallway, unaffected by the impacts, it
  nevertheless appears concerned)  brrrn!
Belphanior:  (thinking fast, he makes a decision, and stands, holding
  onto a doorframe while addressing everyone)  This is what I want you
  to do...

  A short time later, the elf made his way to the control chamber on the
castle keep's uppermost floor.  He was alone now; the others hadn't liked
his plan, but he had been most insistent and time was of the essence.  He
actually thought his plan to defeat the dragon was a strong one:  simple,
effective, and virtually foolproof.  This was doubly so given the fact
that the scheme had been thought up in a matter of moments...although, to
be sure, Belphanior had previously done some planning along these very
lines.  He had learned long ago that it paid to be prepared, and to think
ahead.

Belphanior:  (holds up the large, ornate metal key with its four rows of
  pins and gemstone-containing handle end)  Well, here goes nothing.

  The elf dashed over to the semicircular desk-like apparatus and took a
seat in the black chair within that console.  He inserted the unique key
into its slot and turned it, and with a low hum of magical energy, the
console came to life, some of its small crystals glowing with light now.
The elf had his eye on a particular lever, but first he activated the
large glassy mirror-like screen that covered one entire wall, and fiddled
with the arcane control mechanisms until the gigantic viewing device was
displaying the winged purple form outside.  The dragon had flown a fair
distance away and was now making another attack run, perhaps hoping that
the greater momentum would allow it to break through the magical shield.
Belphanior, however, didn't give the wyrm a chance.

Belphanior:  (grabs the lever, pausing for a single moment before pulling
  it fully into the "down" position)

  The elf had assumed that Mesoloth would see (or otherwise be aware of)
the magical shield dropping, but either the dragon didn't notice or else
couldn't stop its airborne charge.  Whatever the reason, the monster hit
a couple moments later, hard!  The entire keep (and the castle around it,
and the mass of rock upon which the castle rested) shook much harder than
with any of the previous impacts, actually turning almost halfway to the
vertical point.  Throughout the castle, all manner of objects slid across
floors that were no longer level, and cracks appeared in numerous areas
of structures and foundation alike.

Mesoloth:  (stunned, as should be expected when one - whatever one's
  size - slams head-first into a large mass of rock)  PFH.  (it snorts,
  xxxx

  On the far side, opposite of where the dragon had collided with the
castle, a smaller object slowly drifted away.  Moments before lowering
the protective field, Belphanior had subtly rotated the castle so that
the mooring-place of Kronos' skyship was on the opposite side from the
dragon.  Aboard that vessel were all of the others, despite the fact
that every single one of them had wanted to stay in the castle with
Belphanior and do battle with the dragon.  As the elf had told them a
short time ago while insisting that they depart, not all battles were
fought in the conventional sense.

Neera:  (watching the purple dragon extricate itself from the ruined
  section of castle wall)
Hope:  I really hope Belphanior knows what he's doing.
Otto:  He usually does, though I don't like it either.

  The dwarf had instructed Skektek to do the piloting, because he knew
that one, of all of them, was most likely to defy Belphanior's explicit
orders and attack the dragon from afar.

Irina:  I understand him wanting the rest of us to escape, and I'm sure
  he has some kind of plan, but what if...
Otto:  What if he ends up being unable to defeat the dragon himself?
Ys:  You have to admit, it _is_ a valid concern.
Razor Charlie:  (eyeing the dragon and the castle, as the skyship ever-
  so-slowly drifts away, he just grimaces)
wispy thing:  (watches sadly)  rrrrb.

  For its part, Mesoloth had extremely acute senses, and now took note
of the fleeing skyship, and its one living head whipped around angrily,
emitting an angry roar...along with an immense cone of violet energy,
comprised of hundreds of tiny magical missiles.  Those aboard the ship
only had moments to react; Skektek turned the vessel in a desperate
attempt to steer away from the dragon's breath, and those aboard had to
hold on for dear life.  It wasn't quite enough, however; the barrage of
magical energy bombarded the skyship, rocking it back and forth in the
sky and causing who knew what damage.

Belphanior:  (in the control room)  No!  (he immediately pushes the big
  lever upward, once more raising the magical shield around the castle)

  Outside, sprawled in the castle's courtyard, Mesoloth followed up its
potent breath attack by casting a fireball, figuring on destroying the
obviously-damaged skyborne ship.  However, the flames were turned back
by the invisible shield, and the fireball detonated just above the castle
itself, blackening the stone walls, blasting in numerous windows, and
searing the grass and gardens to ash.  This caused more confusion than
harm to the dragon, although its flesh was singed and burned in several
places.  Realizing that the previously-encountered shield was back in
place, the wyrm turned its efforts to locating whoever was left inside
the protective field.

Belphanior:  (sitting in the control chair, inside the top floor of the
  keep, he attempts to figure out what's wrong, as the entire castle is
  now slightly tilted to one side)

  Suddenly, a large portion of the roof of the keep's top floor was torn
away, revealing the angry dragon outside.

Mesoloth's right head:  YOU...JUST YOU?  (its unnatural senses confirm
  that no one else is there)  SACRIFICING YOURSELF FOR YOUR COMPANIONS?
  HOW NOBLE.  BUT YOU MAY REST ASSURED THAT, AFTER I'M DONE WITH YOU,
  I'LL CHASE THEM DOWN AND BLAST THEM FROM THE SKY.
Belphanior:  (vaguely aware that the dragon is subtly attempting to
  exercise some sort of controlling magic on him, an effort that is just
  as subtly being foiled by the enchanted loop of metal he wears in his
  left ear)  No, you won't.
Mesoloth's right head:  (about to use one of its spell-like abilities on
  the elf, it instead just freezes in place, motionless, its huge fanged
  mouth half-open)
Belphanior:  (quickly puts the hourglass of Kronos away)

  The elf hadn't had much time to create his plan, much less rehearse it
in his mind, but it was simple and functional, and everything depended
upon him executing each step smoothly and without panic.  It helped that
he'd used a haste spell on himself the moment the dragon ripped the roof
open; that additional speed was important to the plan.  Using the spell
of jumping in one of his rings, he made a great leap out of the chair, to
the dragon's surviving head.  As he had used this power many times in the
past, he'd gotten pretty good at it, and his aim was perfectly accurate.
Even as he moved through the air, he drew his sword, and by the time he
had landed on the shattered section of roof next to the wyrm, his black
blade was already moving in a deadly arc.  Belphanior didn't have a lot
of time, but as a skilled swordsman, he didn't need a lot.  The dragon,
immobilized in place, was an easy target.  The first blow sliced open an
eyeball, spraying thick translucent gore on the dragon's snout; without
hesitation, the elf grabbed one of the curled horns atop the monster's
head and swung around, and his blade pierced its other eye, ruining that
one as well.  He was sure that time was running out, but he wanted to
deal out as much damage as possible while the dragon was helpless.  He
stabbed through the second mangled eyeball, aiming for where he figured
the foe's brain would be; his sword went deep, such that Belphanior's
arm was elbow-deep in the eye-socket.
  And then the effects of the hourglass ended, and the dragon roared in
primal rage.  It had no idea what had just happened; to its knowledge,
one moment it was preparing to launch a magical attack...and the next
moment, it was blinded and also felt like there was a spike driven into
its head.  The pain was excruciating, and the great dragon thrashed about
with enough force to destroy buildings - which was exactly what began to
happen now, as one of its blows took out portions of the fifth, fourth,
and third floors of the castle.  A random tail swipe toppled a hundred-
foot section of the courtyard wall.
  Ninety-nine of a hundred people would have been hurled away from the
dragon, in this situation, but Belphanior had three things going for him
as he hung on.  First, he possessed exceptional strength, both natural
and then augmented by the enchanted belt he wore.  Second, he had locked
his legs around the horn on the dragon's head, closest to the eye into
which his blade had been thrust, and also held tightly onto the curved,
spiral horn with his free arm.  Third, the elf was not going to let go
of his prized sword, a sword which he had more or less bonded with over
the last ten years; his will was like iron, and he kept a death grip on
its handle.  It was like riding a wild bull, except several times more
difficult.  Belphanior kept trying to pull the blade free, but it was
lodged deep in the dragon's skull; to get more leverage, he would have
to let go of the dragon's horn, and if he did that, he might well be
thrown off, no matter how badly he wanted to keep his sword.
  In the end, Mesoloth resolved the matter, though most unintentionally.
The dragon's blind, frenzied thrashing caused it to ram its head into
a section of wall, which finally loosened the sword stuck in its skull,
just enough for Belphanior to sense an opportunity.  In a flash, he let
go of the dragon's horn with his legs, moving so that the soles of his
feet were against the beast's head...and he pulled with all his might.

Belphanior:  (tears the blade free and flies backward, smashing into a
  half-demolished stone wall hard enough to break several ribs)  Argh!

  Dark blood spurted from that eye-socket, and the dragon was in too
much pain to think about finding the elf.  That didn't stop its violent
movements, which had pretty much destroyed the castle at this point.

Belphanior:  (checks to make sure that the castle's key is still tucked
  away inside his shirt-pocket...and finds it gone, undoubtedly knocked
  loose during the struggle)  Oh, shit.

  The plan had been to either slay the dragon during the time-stop (if
possible) or else unleash the dangerous black cloud from the iron flask
and then retreat through the protective barrier using the castle key.
The first outcome hadn't happened, and now the second was impossible, as
Belphanior had no idea where the key was.  For all he knew, it could be
buried in any of a hundred piles of collapsed rubble.

Mesoloth:  RAAAAAAARGH!  (it charges blindly into a corner of the keep,
  destroying parts of two floors there and sending broken chunks of rock
  everywhere)

  Or a hundred and one piles of rubble.

Belphanior:  (thrown from his feet suddenly, as the ground tilts sharply
  to a near-vertical position and stays that way)  Whoa!  (he also begins
  to get a sense of falling, which makes no sense)

  The elf landed on a section of wall that hadn't broken loose from the
castle yet, and more importantly far from the dragon, which had plowed
through most of what remained of the castle and landed against the field
beyond the castle.  Belphanior decided to take this opportunity to cast
a quick spell, so that he could fly and thus wouldn't have to worry as
much about whatever was going on with the sky castle and the landmass
upon which is was built.  He was of course no expert, but his guess was
that the dragon's initial and subsequent attacks had somehow damaged the
magical vapors and system that kept this rock afloat high above the world
below.  This guess was due to the scattered clouds of blue gas that were
now visible throughout the spherical area containing the castle.

Belphanior:  Damn...another unexpected wrinkle.

  There was no doubt about it now:  the entire structure - the castle
and its foundation of rock, much of which was now loose debris - all of
it sealed within the spherical force-field...was dropping from the sky.
This descent had been slow (barely perceptible) at first, but now the
rate of speed was noticeably increasing.  Just being in motion like this,
even with a flying spell in effect, was stomach-churning and vaguely
disorienting.  It wouldn't be long before the giant bubble-shield and
everything inside it would smash into the land below with enough force
to pulverize its contents.
  Belphanior needed to find a way to not be counted among those contents.
Escaping using the castle's key wasn't an option, as he didn't have it,
didn't know where it was, and probably didn't have time to find it.  For
the same reason, shutting off the force-field and simply flying away was
impossible.  He'd removed the key after raising the field to trap the
dragon, but lost it sometime shortly thereafter.  The force-shield was
at its full capacity, completely surrounding the landmass, without any
small gaps in the spherical field.  The elf knew from past experience
that standard teleportation magic wouldn't bypass the shield...

Belphanior:  Ah!

  Perhaps non-standard teleportation magic would work...teleportation
magic of a sort much more powerful than a simple spell...teleportation
magic wrought by an artifact.  And he possessed such an item:  the large
brass sextant known as the Eye of Celestian.  He didn't know if it would
work, but there wasn't time for any other option.  However...there was
something he had to do first.

Belphanior:  (finds his gaze drifting toward Mesoloth, whose vast bulk
  rests on the invisible, concave surface of the castle's shield, over
  a hundred feet below the elf's current position)

  The dragon was pinned under a huge chunk of the castle, and appeared
to be stunned.  Beyond the dragon's huge form, Belphanior could see the
ground far below.  Did he have time?  Without a second thought, he flew
downward, as fast as his spell would allow.  He had to try - it was worth
the risk.  Soaring around behind the dragon's sentient head, he readied
his sword again, eyeing his target, determining the best place to strike.

Belphanior:  (drives his sword's point into the dragon's head, behind
  one ear)

  The blade didn't stab as far into the monster's skull as it had the
last time, but it didn't have to; the familiar quiver of energy passed
through the sword and into the elf.  Mesoloth was dying, truly slain
this time, and there would be no question of that in the future.





  Somewhere in the sky above, the others had stabilized the skyship as
best as they could.  It was heavily damaged, and would need substantial
magical repair, but at least it wasn't listing to the port side anymore.
Skektek was in the bridge, working to ensure that the vessel would fly
straight, while the others were on deck.  It seemed a minor miracle that
everyone was present and accounted for.

Ys:  It is good that none of us fell to our deaths when that accursed
  dragon breathed magical power upon us...but what of Belphanior?
Otto:  There!  (he points at the ruined sky castle, within its spherical
  shield, as it plummets from the sky)
Hope:  I can't see the dragon, but since the shield is still there, I'd
  assume the thing's still trapped inside.
Razor Charlie:  Not for much longer.  It's going to-

  The impact was tremendous, its force instantly causing a huge cloud of
dust that obscured everything.  Despite their great distance above the
ground, the adventurers in the skyship could clearly hear the sound from
the castle colliding with the world below, and it nearly deafened them.
Moments later, they felt the residual shockwaves, the skyship rocking
gently back and forth in the air.

Irina:  Oh, dear.
Skektek:  (joins them on deck)  Holy shit.  I sure hope he got out of
  there.
Neera:  He did.  (she blinks back tears)  He must have.





next:       fallout
www:        http://www.peldor.com/download.html
homepage:   http://www.peldor.com/
email:      tmiller@peldor.com
released:   1/29/2016
notes:      As you can now see, I opted to have episode 1000 be just a
  regular episode (or at least as "regular" as any of my stories get)
  rather than a super-cliffhanger or a setup for the Greyhawk Wars or
  anything else fitting for an episode with the number 1000.

    Another of my 2016 goals, and one that I badly wanted to achieve by
  the 1000th episode, was a near-total cleanup of the website.  This is
  now done, and as you read this, you can go to peldor.com and find that
    1)  all sub-sections have current dates and information
    2)  the "What's New" updates from 12/28/15 and 1/15/16 are posted
    3)  Irina's character sheet is posted

    I imagine there will have to be some more updates soon, given what
  happened in this episode.

    When I first came up with the idea of Mesoloth, there were so many
  options and alternatives that thinking about them all boggled my mind.
  Each time I chose one path, it seemed that new paths then opened up
  further down the road.  I think there were about a dozen possible ways
  the overall Mesoloth arc could have gone, and I could have made all of
  them entertaining.  As for the endgame in this episode, I'd say that
  the dragon's plan was damn near perfect, except that it wasn't aware
  of all of Belphanior's capabilities.

    The matter of Alindyar's payment for helping in episode 999 was just
  a genuine mistake on my part, a mental typo; I truly forgot about the
  paintbrush having already been given to the dark elf.  The fix happened
  early in this episode, and I think it was simple and effective.

    Random notes on figurines of wondrous power (and I need to add this
  to the appropriate section of the webpage)...the seven official variants
  of these figurines, at least at the time of 2nd Edition, are listed and
  detailed in that era's Dungeon Master's Guide:  ebony fly, golden lions,
  ivory goats, marble elephant, obsidian steed, onyx dog, serpentine owl.
  Rillen possesses an onyx dog, by the way.  But I've created a few of my
  own and seeded those into my stories:  amber tiger (Halbarad), silver
  eagle (Bosco), brass monkey (Bosco) and now the quartz mule (Ys) plus
  one unique figurine that's more powerful than any others, the jade
  three-headed dog (Belphanior).
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++



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